Taylor Mali


Last night, ten feet from the end of the driveway
you ran over a porcupine because I was too drunk to say,
Stop! I think there’s a porcupine in the middle of the road!

It did not die as we expected from the dreadful crunch of quills,
and we know this because the flashlights we walked back
to the scene of the accident found only a puddle of blood
and then, on the side of the road, him, the stunned spikes
of his breathing slow, and his eyes blinking into the light.

By now you were crying and telling him how sorry you were,
how you didn’t see him. Holding onto my arm, you spoke
your sorrow into my shoulder. And, Am I a bad person?
is what I thought you might say, or something like that,
when you sniffed away your tears, looked me dead in the face,
and said, Now we have to kill him. What guns do you keep here?

It was raining, of course. And you were still in your cocktail dress
when we returned with my father’s old .22 and the last seven bullets
I could find in the house. There was no question of who’d pull the trigger,
who would execute the mercy killing. I was still drunk, but sober enough
to hold the flashlight while you fired all seven slugs into the little body,
now finally still, in less time than it would take you to whisper,
Please forgive me for what I am about to do.

There is little doubt in my mind that if porcupines could speak,
God dammit! would be the first thing this one would say.
Followed almost immediately by, Thank you.

And if I thought, as I often do, that I could not fall deeper
in love with you, I was wrong again in the morning when,
with eyes still red from last night’s murder, you found a spade
from the garden shed and silently started to dig a grave,
plunging the blade into the rich, dark earth, still wet
from last night’s rain.


Taylor Mali is a poet and educator and one of the original poets to appear on the HBO series “Def Poetry Jam.” A four-time National Poetry Slam champion, he is the author of four previous collections of poetry and a book of essays, What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World. He curates the Page Meets Stage reading series in New York City and is the inventor of Metaphor Dice. These poems are also forthcoming in Taylor Mali’s book Late Father, published by Quercus.