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Sample Poems by Tami Haaland



Liar

He yells it before she slams the car door.
"I'll walk home" she says to the closed window.
We finish her story in our own car.
In my version, she'll go to the corner,
he'll speed around the block, feel guilty,
return, and insist she get in.
In Irena's version he'll go where he's going.
She'll have to get there another way,
hitch hiking maybe or a long walk.
The ending is the same and we both know it,
the way we know there are only so many stories,
perfectly formed, and they enter us
each time in shadowy variation.
Or maybe there are as many stories
as stars and we don't see them until long
after they begin to shine, our recognition that dim.
It's summer. Our windows are down. This is
earlier in our lives and the wind whips our long hair.
We are the kind of women they joke about,
another kind of story, the blonds so dumb.
But we are smart enough to guess how this story
will end for the girl, smart enough to know
that if we keep on driving maybe
there's a better version up ahead just waiting
to pull its comb through our tangled hair.



The Kiss

My friend and I circle "The Kiss," Rodin's
tribute to the lovers who were left, then caught
and killed for their failure to fail in
love. Look at the way they nearly resist
the embrace: their left arms not quite engaged,
her arm raised to encircle his shoulder and
his hand around but not resting, almost freed
from her hip. They sit close so ribs expanded
in breath must have let each body lean
to the other, and when breath began to coincide,
then each slipping to the space between
must have caused this kiss, my friend and I decide.
He stands on one side and I on the other.
Separate ends, a perfect diameter.



Exhibit

The woman in the butterfly pavilion
pretends she is a statue. Today's
docent says sex is in the air, so she stays,
hoping the shine and spark of cerulean
wings will settle, and thread-like feet will
attach to her arm. Though she can't detect
pheromones, the docent says they're like scent
to a fish in a slow-moving channel.
Behind closed doors the air is tropical:
philodendra grow to the greenhouse ceiling,
hibiscus and birds of paradise bloom.
A thousand wings seem so infallible.
The docent says these creatures are reeling.
They don't even eat once they leave the cocoon.



Budapest 1978

We sit at a table and smile
at the students. A tenor
in the corner delivers an aria,
high notes going higher
as he stands on his chair.
Then we sing a light number
from our repertoire,
then he sings, and we sing,
and he sings some more.
The one across the table
glances again. His girlfriend
doesn't like him smiling
at me. The students
want to give us mementos-
lapel pins they drop
in our hands-and he
chooses me. He gestures:
could he? My dress?
He slips his fingers under
the neckline, and the pin
moves in, his fingers
protecting my skin.
We look but don't
linger, and what words
could we speak? I remember
the place, the singing.
I still have the pin.



These Roses

I've been lazy this year, leaving old flowers
at the edge of the bed. Today I move
moldering leaves and stems to a bucket
and haul one load, then another
to the city compost bin. I don't trim
blooms until petals begin to fall,
though some say to collect them as soon
as buds open. When I work here, love songs,
their thorns and roses, fill my head
and music brings in the past. One day
my cousins call me to their sister-world.
I arrive on my bike, and the youngest

leads me to a chair, gives me ice. The oldest,
a college girl, holds a needle made
for heavy fabric. She has already pierced
her sisters' ears and it feels good to be
lined up, included, for the moment
not quite sisterless. I shy from the cold
and when the needle stings, three voices
assure me it will be all right. One cousin
takes two cubes of ice in her hand and holds
my ear through pain of cold to numbness.
Then the needle enters and I can hear
the progress, its slow and sinewy course.

Kneeling near a ring of cement around
meandering and insistent brambles,
I dodge thorns and coax hard soil to soften
in water. Some plants, gone wild,
multiply vines and refuse to bloom. They
twine through everything and I let them.