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
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