Tami Haaland is the author of two books of poetry: When We Wake in the Night and Breath in Every Room. Her poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies and have been featured on The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry. Haaland teaches creative writing and chairs the department of English, Philosophy and Modern Languages at Montana State University Billings. She is Montana’s Poet Laureate.
She Was So Tiny
She was so tiny I would give her anything.
I would buy her sweets, cinnamon or lemon,
thick puddings, strawberries. I would give her
my arm, a smile, kisses on the forehead,
my rocking frame beside her. I said it was okay.
Wasn’t it? I said I loved her and rubbed
her bony back, her swollen feet. We would play
with lipstick and lotions. Your dry skin, I’d say.
Her hair, the brush, the silly way they would
braid her into a girl and I wanted her hair
long and loose, waves spilling down her neck.
Her sunken eyes, her warnings, go now.
Her greetings, you’re finally here.
It was a long while and it was yesterday.
It was a year and a mile, a daily escape,
a treat, a burden, a weight. We walked to the exotic swans
and watched them preen. We talked about shoes
and traded clothes. We had sunlight, we had
the gorgeous single red poppy in weeds,
we had a back fence we couldn’t climb,
unplanted flowerbeds, cigarette butts
heeled into sidewalk. What a place.
We were somebody’s sister or another’s enemy.
Sometimes they hadn’t seen us for years,
and we watched them make bright forests
on paper, topped with glitter the color of sky.
Every Morning the Squirrel Comes
Along the ledge of the back fence,
around the corner, onto the small branches
of the sick elm, from the elm
to the poplar, across its scraggy bark,
it makes its daily heroic leap
into the fine stems of the maple
and there feasts on leftover
spinners from fall, each seed
curled with potential.
It’s the wild leap I love, the branches
caterwauling like a bobble head,
snow or leaves flying in season,
and the happy squirrel bounding along
to solid trunk and then up
the next wrung to light branches
nearer the sky, sometimes circling
or chasing in dappled sun.
In summer it splays along
the central trunk to cool, and then,
as if leaping tree to tree were
everything, it takes its flight.
Easy for a squirrel, no concern
for a slip that might send it
break-necking down or into the mouth
of the neighbor’s cat who waits
in the shrubs twitching its fat tale.
Yet I would be like this,
every day a leap and then another,
as if falling could not be
further from my mind.