“The Entire Act of Sorrow” by Taylor Mali

Taylor Mali


Because men murder their wives every day;
because when a woman dies and it looks
like a tragic accident, a botched burglary
or even (in fact, especially) a suicide,
it too often turns out to have been her husband,
I wonder if, when the detective called
to tell me what had happened to Rebecca
(It seems your wife has taken her own life,
those were the words he used: seems
and taken her own life, not killed herself
or committed suicide instead, and nothing
more than seems even though she was dead);
I wonder if as I began to cry the tears I never cried
when first my father and then even my mother died;
I wonder if he was secretly taping my every word,
my breathing, the entire act of sorrow, for playback
at some future date just to see if I sounded
like an innocent man.

Because later, after the services;
after the shrine of flowers and candles disappeared
as suddenly as it had bloomed on the sidewalk;
after the medical examiner made her ruling
and I was allowed to break the tape that sealed
our apartment and walk in on her last night,
the scene of the crime, untouched except for the window
from which she had jumped, now closed,
but everything else—the small and final stones
of her ritual still lying in a cross on the floor,
goldfish floating dead in the fish tank;
even as I bagged and gave away her clothes,
invited friends to take what fit if they could,
to remember; I wonder if I still—or ever—
was considered a suspect in her murder.
Because I think sometimes I should have been.

I don’t mean that I was there or opened the window for her;
gathered her screaming in my arms and let her go,
but rather by the small, sad cloud that hung
over her and which rained stinging, black,
and bitter tears on her daughter-of-the-Holocaust head;
I knew that she would one day do this,
even—and I cannot stand myself for saying so—
even hoped she would in the same outrageous,
secret way you might hope a dog (like our dog,
the one she picked out herself
because he cowered in the back of his cage
as though he did not expect to be saved
from the shelter); in the very same way
you hope to god this dog will die
before you have to put him down.

from The Whetting Stone
2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner

[download audio]


Taylor Mali: “In both of the books of poetry I published after Rebecca’s death I tried to include a few poems about her. But they were always so unlike the rest of the manuscript that they couldn’t stay in. I’ve known for a decade that all my poems about Rebecca would need to be published in a collection by themselves. The Whetting Stone is that collection.” (website)

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