For years after my wife left me, in my weaker moments,
I picked at my wounds like they were poured concrete walls,
convinced that any new house would be stronger if built
skeleton-free, on a foundation with no bones inside.
I scratched at the walls with my fingers like a prisoner,
eager to sterilize and disinfect whatever I could find
whether it needed it or not. And what was it drove
the disinterment of these hurts? Nothing much more
than the feeling that my love had not been enough.
I could go back—and did a hundred times—over and over,
but it never turned her leaving into my idea, or even
an agreement arrived at after a night of grateful tears.
I think I can finally safely say if I ever fall in love again,
it will be with the heart I have now, which was always true.
And that new house will have to stand on these old stones.
I’ve sworn off scratching at these old cellar walls and left
what bones may still within them lie.
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.