For the Life of Me by Taylor Mali

One of my favourite poems from one of my favourite slam poets. You can see him perform the poem on YouTube.

For the Life of Me by Taylor Mal

I’m trying to remember the name
of the character I used to
pretend to be when I woed you
The one with the voice like a driveway

Who you said made you laugh
but on whom I think we both know
you had developed a bit of a crush

So unlike the real me, he was
based on this ex-Dallas Cowboy I knew
in graduate shool
who owned a liquor store and a sunlamp

“You’re the kind of woman that
makes a man want to get in touch
with his masculine side and
I don’t think I can love you any more,”

That’s about the dumbest thing
I ever made him say
This character who you said you loved
and made you laugh every time

and whose name I cannot
for the life of me

And speaking of time

I found a digital watch in a bag
that I thought was mine but
was yours although it’s mine now
I guess

and it said, of course, 12:34
the magic minute of childhood

of course, that wasn’t the time
at the time, though it is now
the clocks having changed twice
since the day you died

and anyway, that was the time that I said
I was going to come back and
visit you if I died first
remember arguing about that?

about who was going to die first?
me pointing out the history of
cancer in my family

you, not pointing out the history of anything
just taking a long drag of your cigarette
as if to say, “hello? cigarettes!”

I’m willing to admit that
you are right, because
I am the one that is left
although I still think you cheated

and speaking of suicide

I once asked you whether you
ever thought about it and
you said, “no,
you’re not that lucky”

in an answer I recognize now
as being more loaded than
any pistol we never kept under the mattress
which I had to give away anyway

and now I wonder that if you
did come back from the dead
whether I could stop myself from saying,
“See? Apparently I am that lucky.”

speaking of luck

you always said I sucked it
right out of the room
but that was right after you
found out that the word

“Squinters” S-Q-U-I-N-T-E-R-S
“those who squint”
is an acceptable word in Scrabble
lost a turn

I banked 144 points
the overturned board scattered
most of the tiles and there are
still letters that I cannot find

and speaking of letters I never found

you never left me one
never sent me one
never left me a note,
or a sign

as I boxed and gave away
your clothes and packed
up the apartment I kept thinking
that I would find something

all last fall my breath
arrived each day
with the mail

I still think sometimes it might arrive
a padded envelope without
a zip code or missing a stamp
something filled with all the

missing letters
but for now I would be content
to remember the name of the man
who said, “I don’t think I can love you any more”

That man who you said you loved
who I pretended to be
and whose name I cannot remember
for the life of me


Light Breaks

The light floating in
From the open window
In the old, dark basement
Plays with your features
Light and shadow morphing your face
Perfect in my memory
Broken in the light

The light from the open back door
Blocks out the hunger in his face
As if I’d seen it, I’d have known
That he was stealing
My hard-earned innocence
One greedy grasp at a time

Trigger warnings
Movie monsters and men in black
The dark and the broken
Play hide and seek in my head

Coloured light breaks through coloured glass
A reminder of my place in the world
Dust flies through the beams
On my way to the ceiling
Flat on my back

Come and get me