The Whetting Stone by Taylor Mali is as piercing as the knives whetstones sharpen. The poems in his collection – each in its own way – are stunning and not in the least sentimental. Together, they take readers on a breath-taking journey through love, grief, suicide, loss, and finally back to love.
“Grief Moves,” the first poem introduces a sensuousness and intimacy that leads readers through the eighteen poems that follow.
…before falling into sleep,
how we came together, loss now
a moving thing between us.
It also introduces the “other” of the collection whose “grief…become a kind of need.”
Perhaps the most powerful poem is “Six Stories.” The first stanza reveals the suicide, followed by six short verses, each enlightening the backstory lurking behind the act. Like others in the collection, this poem has been honed to the fine precision of a chef’s knife. There’s not a word out of place; all excess has been cut. The language is precise and concise.
We travel inward with Mali, glimpsing 10 years of marriage, but the focus of The Whetting Stone delves into those that come after. In “Twelfth Anniversary,” Mali shares a light, almost humorous – but extraordinarily insightful – moment that marks (perhaps) the beginning of forgiveness: “And what is more, that I loved you as best I could while you were alive.”
Mali’s skill is as sharp as the knife that surfaces in many poems. One poem I found particularly moving has the longest title: “Things We Both Know / That I Still Have to Tell You.” It ends with a two-line stanza:
You are none of the things
you think you are. Or even alive.
Pain and healing are equally present in the words and what is written between the lines.
The Whetting Stone offers readers an insightful, honest journey through trauma until Mali has a crucial awareness and a shift occurs. He’s ready to let go and writes:
Lover, at last, please leave me, after all these years.
You have cried enough. Leave me to these tears.
Eventually, he recognizes:
Taylor Mali’s The Whetting Stone won the 2017 Rattle Chapbook Prize. I highly recommend this thin, extraordinary chapbook.
Available through the publisher: The Whetting Stone
or from the author: The Whetting Stone (where you can learn more about him and his writing).