Interview w/ Taylor Mali • Poet

SM: When was the last time you took a big risk?

TM: The last time I took a really big risk was today. I am writing you from a hotel bar in Dublin. It’s risky for Americans to be anywhere these days. I walk down the street and try not to act American (which means not smiling while punching people in the face).

SM: Please tell us a non-career or life-threatening secret about yourself.

TM: A secret about myself? Unlike my friend, who believes that if you find a penny and pick it up, all day long you’ll have a penny. I truly believe that picking up a heads-up penny will bring you good luck. I look for them actively. And I probably find one a day on average. From what I gather, however, Euro pennies have no “heads” so I haven’t picked up any while here. Tossed a U. S. penny off the side of the halfpenny bridge yesterday while making a wish. Will that bring me double good luck? Or a ticket for littering?

SM: What’s the luckiest thing that’s ever happened to you?

TM: The luckiest thing that’s ever happened to me was being born to a man and woman who loved each other. They loved me, too, and they told me so daily.

SM: Please describe your smile to someone who’s never seen it.

TM: My smile is big like a navigator. Like Antarctica, but filled with sun. I look like a politician, so when I smile, I look like a really friendly politician smiling. My eyes are part of my smile. So is my breath. So are you.

SM: If you had to reintroduce an amnesiac to the world, where’s the first place you would take them?

TM: If I had to reintroduce an amnesiac to the world, I’d take her swimming in the ocean first. When we got out of the water, I’d say, “See? That’s like where you came from. Now we’re going to eat sushi and talk about birth.”

SM: If you took a fifteen minute walk in heaven, what would you bring with you?

TM: Sunglasses. Really dark ones. Like the kind welders wear. And sunscreen of course. And a little talking picture frame (I buy them at radio shack) so I could record God saying something cool. Or if she didn’t do such gaudy tricks, at least I could record my own thoughts while being in heaven.

SM: If a statue were made of you, where would you like it, and in what pose would you set it?

TM: Put it somewhere in Greenwich Village, like outside The Bowery Poetry Club. And make it of me reciting “What Teachers Make” at the moment when I say, “You see, I have this policy.” I always put my tented fingertips together. Make the statue out of brass so that the parts people touched would become shiny.

SM: When was the last time you looked over your shoulder at something important?

TM: I can’t remember. Things that are important I like to keep right in front of me. If that means I have to turn and face them, so be it. There’s a fire in Dublin somewhere. This hotel is right next to the station.

SM: What could you give us to put in a treasure chest to send to the bottom of the sea?

TM: If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have said my old wedding ring. It’s gold, and it says “Tiffany & Co. 750” on the inside. I didn’t know what to do with it. See my wife and I were getting divorced, and like all the love poems I wrote her, the ring was somehow awkward now. But then she died in September 2004. And so I’m not a divorcé after all. I’m a widower. A 39-year-old widower. And the ring, I still, it was, I just didn’t know. So I put it up for auction on eBay along with all the other wedding rings. I would have given you that.

SM: How would you recommend we recognize you in the land of sleep and dreaming?

TM: Come up to me and say, “Apollo says hello.” And if I look at you like you’re crazy, say “That’s what you told me to say if I ever saw you in the land of sleep and dreaming.”