I’ve learned to tell the difference between your cries
and the tears of other children. And though the former
wrenches me awake if I hear it anywhere, all the others
can cry themselves to a sad and lonely death for all I care.
If that makes me awful, talk to the god who made me so.
And I’ve learned to tell the difference between your cries,
by which this time I mean I can identify each type of whine,
and wail, whimper, moan, and livid eldritch howl, as well
the difference between your fake tears and your tired tears,
your feed-me tears, and even the Academy Award
for Most Indignant Unforgiving Tantrum of Inconsolable
which goes to . . . you. Again.
If this makes me awful, talk to the god who made me so.
But tonight I am standing in the middle of your room,
and you are here, and safe, and warm, and fed, asleep,
and dry. So why do I think I still can hear beneath this hush
some softer and more desperate cry and know it’s yours?
What god would give a father such a fear? That in a place
I cannot find, you are alone and scared and needing me,
crying out my name in some voice I cannot hear.
Taylor Mali is one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement 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 collections of poetry and a book of essays, "What Teachers Make: In Praise of the Greatest Job in the World.” In April of 2012, Mali donated 12 inches of his hair to the American Cancer Society Mali after convincing 1,000 people to become teachers. He lives in Brooklyn where he is the founding curator of the Page Meets Stage reading series at the Bowery Poetry Club.