A Hundred and Fifty Pounds

Michael Prior

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Each adult will be allowed 150 pounds

 

and each child will be allowed 75 pounds of baggage.

 

—B.C. Security Commission, 1942

 

             after Kayla Isomura’s The Suitcase Project

 

In some, the luggage lies open

like a mouth mid-sentence.

In others, closed zippers grimace:

 

What would you have brought?

Slippers, a stuffed platypus, a gold watch

on a chain, copper pots swaddled in bedding.

 

The hypotheses: that thinking

can be things, that each decision shrinks

the pained mind to the space

 

inside a suitcase. Include

lacquered chopsticks, silver forks,

a hammer scarred by rust, the orders

 

nailed to telephone poles and doors.

Omit what you whispered then,

most of what you’ve seen.

 

I was given forty-eight hours’ notice, twenty-four.

I passed ice and pines and plains.

I rode an iron serpent

 

into the Interior

beside four hundred others.

It was humid. It was cold.

 

If pain is remembered

to be dismissed. If fear still seeds

its rotting forest. This

 

is a gardener’s trowel, a blue skein of yarn,

a violin, a ukulele, a ukulele, a ukulele.

This is a porch light

 

flicked on and off in abscessed night.

There are pear blossoms falling

on the driveway like footprints in black ice.

 

Memories, river stones,

metamorphic and worn. How many

might an able-bodied individual carry

 

through livestock-stalls and mud,

onto a bus, a train,

into a tiny, uninsulated shack?

 

Most say the same: It could happen again.

It is happening now. I couldn’t

make room

 

for a dogless collar,

a hound's-tooth scarf, a steel urn

packed in Styrofoam, a letter

 

recording blood’s divisive fractions.

My father would not have come.

My mother.  My stepsister.  My brother.

 

What matters is not what you bring,

but what you keep.

She was there. He was, too.

Michael Prior, "A Hundred and Fifty Pounds" from Burning Province.  Copyright © 2020 by Michael Prior.  Reprinted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, Ltd., a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. All rights reserved.

Source: Burning Province (McClelland & Stewart, Ltd., a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited, 2020). Any third party use of this material, outside of this publication, is prohibited. Interested parties must apply directly to Penguin Random House Canada Limited for permission