“Making Sense of the World” by Taylor Mali

Taylor Mali


My son tried three times to ask me 
for something, but never got further than
Daddy, can I … um? Can I … um? Can I … um?

So I asked him if Canayam was a new kid in his class
because there is already a Kinaya and a Nayan,
and it seemed like a pretty good guess
and an awesome Dad joke all rolled into one.

And that was the day that Canayam Buttsworth was born.
And yes, his last name is Buttsworth. And as it turns out 
he is not in my son’s class but is rather the central actor 
in the common history he is creating for himself. Not so much 
an imaginary friend as someone he can mention casually in conversation 
as having done things that my son has only ever heard about. 

For instance, you might not know this, but Canayam Buttsworth 
goes to work every day at AM/PM o’clock. Why? 
Because someone has to pay for the money. 
Canayam Buttsworth is a fireman, a policeman, 
an astronaut, and a great white shark.

Canayam Buttsworth likes blackberries, Pirate’s Booty,
and bubble baths with his little sister. Incidentally,
Canayam Buttsworth has a penis and a ji-nah.
It’s true. Because Canayam Buttsworth is five years old, 
but also six, a hundred, and the same age as Daddy,
which is like forty-twenty-sixty years old.

Canayam Buttsworth once jumped off the top 
of the Empire State Building and died 
like Abraham Lincoln of ballistic trauma.
He also died of pleurisy like Benjamin Franklin 
a long, long time ago, like forty-twenty-sixty years ago.
But now he is alive and well and living in Seattle with 
Grandma and Grandpa.
If dreams are where the mind churns and jumbles 
through the flotsam of the recent past, then 
the person who does that for my son while he is awake
is none other than Buttsworth, Canayam Buttsworth. 
And if sometimes I embellish his exploits, it’s only because 
I love saying his name, and poetry is what does that for me,
how I make sense of the world when I am in need of healing 
I cannot find elsewhere. Which reminds me that Canayam Buttsworth 
is a widower who didn’t know if he would ever love again 
or have children. Whose heart was shattered 
into forty-twenty-sixty pieces.

But somehow he has survived. 
And he wears a mask made out of his own underpants, 
and he peers out through the leg holes with x-ray eyes.
Because as you have no doubt figured out by now,
Canayam Buttsworth is a superhero. 
Did I mention that he has a penis and a ji-nah!? 
Canayam Buttsworth can fly underwater.
And he writes poems, too. And he can fix anything.
Just like you, Daddy. Just like you.

from Rattle #73, Fall 2021


Taylor Mali: “In a workshop I once took with Billy Collins, he said the question you always need to ask yourself first is ‘Why should anyone care what I have to say?’ Almost 20 years later, I continue to ask myself that question every day. I don’t always get an encouraging answer, but I don’t let that stop me from writing.” (web)

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