“A poem is the perfect place to celebrate imperfection and exult in the ways you fall short of being the person you want to be.” – Taylor Mali
Bouquet of Red Flags is Taylor Mali’s third collection of poetry, and I bought it as soon as it came out at the end of last year. I really enjoyed his first two collections: What Learning Leaves (a must read for teachers, but very enjoyable for non-educators as well) and The Last Time As We Are.
This collection covers a wide array of subjects, including many reflective poems about the end of his marriage. He writes with an honest, observational and accessible style that I love so much in poetry.
Here’s my favorite poem from the collection, which was first published in Rattle. (If you follow the link through to Rattle there’s a lovely audio track of Taylor Mali reading the poem himself.)
MAGNIFIES AN OBJECT TEN TIMES
is what it clearly said
on the handle of the magnifying glass
my father received on his fifth birthday.
He took it as a warning; the birthday gift
would only work its magic ten times
and no more, becoming, after that,
just a small round window with no miracle,
toy giant’s monocle, a circle of simple glass.
And so he went about his days with curious thrift,
weighing how much he needed to see any part
of the world up close, observing as best he could
with his own eyes first, thinking, Do I need to see
that dead bug big? That dandelion, that blade
of grass, that wriggling moth in the spider’s web?
I can imagine most of nature’s gifts and crimes.
Best not to waste one of my ten precious times.
He lost count of how many miracles he’d left,
and for weeks after half-expected the magic of the glass
to simply stop. And I have asked him to tell me
of the thrilling moment he realized, or was told,
“ten times” in this context simply meant tenfold
and not ten instances, but he cannot remember.
Likewise the joy that must have come with such
a limitless epiphany. But what he does recall
and says most he misses still is the way the magic
made him see the world the rest of the time,
not through the glass, but all the time
he thought that magic would not last.