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In Memory of a Banyan Tree: Poems of the Outside World: 1985 to 2022
Three Wooden Trunks
The Country Where Everyone’s Name Is Fear: Selected Poems
  Tami Haaland

ISBN 978-0-9981963-6-7     $18.00  /  $21.00 (Canada)     5.5 x 8.5       

80 pp      
PUB DATE: March 2018       Poetry


Tami Haaland’s exquisite and necessary book of poems, What Does Not Return, is a rare account of the experience we have come to call, rightly, care-giving. With ritual attentiveness, in small, deeply considered gestures, in words exchanged at the altar of grief, she shows us what it might mean to honor and celebrate what is given to us and what is taken away. From the moving first poems, in which she witnesses her mother’s daily diminishment and eventual death from dementia, to the last, when she finds herself searching silently for an escaped rabbit in the night, these poems remind us that, if we are here, we are all “graveside,” sitting “on the edge, legs dangling.” We are here on the verge of tears, where the daylight is.

—Melissa Kwasny

What Does Not Return is remarkable—pity and common joy intermingling. The ceremony of language that poetry is carries throughout the book. We hear a lift in the writer’s sentences and deft handling of pace in every poem. We see the entrance of light and the light that remains after the poem is finished, a mother’s life put away. Our life’s story is told, the end especially, with grave dignity. And, as it is with ceremonies, a sense of what is pure also remains, a sense that we are “awake in ways” that we “couldn’t have sustained earlier.”

—Carol Frost

About the Author

Tami Haaland

TAMI HAALAND is the author of two previous books of poetry, When We Wake in the Night and Breath in Every Room, winner of the Nicholas Roerich First Book Award from Story Line Press. Her poems have appeared in High Desert Journal, Consequence, Ascent, The Ecopoetry Anthology, and many other publications. Her work has also been featured on The Writer’s Almanac, Verse Daily, and American Life in Poetry. Haaland received an Artist Innovation Award from Montana Arts Council in 2012 and served as Montana’s Poet Laureate from 2013 to 2015. She teaches at Montana State University Billings.





Review by Katy Haas

15 March 2018

. . . Tami Haaland’s “Noon Lockdown” is as timely as ever, especially after yesterday’s school walkouts protesting gun violence. A school is on lockdown, “men with guns / two floors down, swat teams, / nine police cars. We plan what to do.” Some students panic:

One is angry because
her mother failed to text love,
so I kiss her head as I would kiss
the heads of my own grown children.

The situation ends up being a misunderstanding. No one is in any real harm, and they’re all free to leave, the speaker visiting her own mother, “whose mind has turned / to lace.” The two sit together, the speaker not sharing the day’s events:

I hold her hand as if
there is nothing to say. [ . . . ]
I don’t
tell her a thing she will forget.

While the speaker offered comfort to her students when they needed it, she is left to quietly process on her own. Life goes on after the panic settles. Haaland has a new book coming out from Lost Horse Press next month: What Does Not Return. The distributor's website says the collection “examines dementia and caregiving,” and if “Noon Lockdown” is any indication of the type of work one might find in the forthcoming book, it promises to be a thoughtful, skillfully written collection.



7 June 2018
What Does Not Return
by Tami Haaland
(Lost Horse Press, 2018)
ISBN 978-0-9981963-6-7

Review by Barbara Ellen Sorensen

In her new book, What Does Not Return, Tami Haaland’s poetry informs the reader that we are all intimately and inextricably tied to the natural world. The recognition of this interdependence is tightly woven throughout the book. Nature can impart many things and these poems ask us to pay attention to messages at once transcendent and temporal, visceral and ethereal.

Haaland leads us through an array of vistas including oceans, mountains, high deserts and prairies. In the first section titled “Forgetting,” these disparate landscapes come alive and serve as backdrops to a mother’s dementia: “The earth smells musty and rich.” (6) Haaland emerges as a fierce caregiver as she unravels the harrowing stages of her mother’s diminishing corporeal and cognitive states. Haaland writes, “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.” (1), thus coming full circle as a child who must now become the parent to her parent.

With unflinching candor in the triolet, “A Little Prairie Song,” Haaland equates her mother’s dementia with a coiled snake: “Listen as her mind reels and tattles. / Forgetting has swallowed it tail. / And the snake coils and rattles” (3).

The effort of caregiving reaches a pinnacle when, in the book’s second section, in the poem “Noon Lockdown,” Haaland describes how she became a kind of surrogate mother to her students. During a lockdown drill for mass school shooters, a student “is angry because / her mother failed to text love, / so I kiss her head as I would kiss / the heads of my own grown children.” (28)

Further in the book, we are rocked from edenic prairies and mountains, meadowlarks and mourning doves and plunged into dark landscapes; there are hidden arsenals and B52s all around us. There are nuclear missiles, mosquitoes potentially carrying disease, and invasive Russian thistle that must be uprooted; this section embodies exactly its title: “World of the Eye’s Long Gaze.” (27)

Yet, in the midst of all of these menacing images there is the language of poetry and the solace of the natural world. Grief is part of our protean world and the poet welcomes its tributary of grace as she watches a whale plummet in and out of the water: “I thought, here I am again, failing to put to rest the past, / the thing shriveling in the interior, while this creature, / already a memory, overtakes what cannot be undone.” (64)

Haaland gifts us with the consolation of wild things— including roses, black currants, bees, rabbits, monarchs, pheasants, starlings—and we are propelled forward with the poet because, “We are bone / and bone, muscle and muscle, / and underneath each surface / a quiet and insistent pulse.” (58)

Likewise, there is solace in creativity; the poet notes that while engaging in paper folding, “Some kind of resonance emerged. Not jittery / but joyful.” (48) So too in sketching, “Our pencils uncover a star’s seven points . . . / Our pencils lead us, and we begin to see.” (44)

We realize that letting go is the last humane act we all must do and that in the midst of acceptance there remains doubt: “. . . it doesn’t matter where we live, what / continent or little town, we are / in the song, and those phrases / come back now. They remind me how I might / have held on longer before letting go.”(50)


BARBARA ELLEN SORENSEN is the author of three books of poetry. She is a contributing writer to the Tribal College Journal and former senior editor of Winds of Change, the flagship magazine of the American Indian Science & Engineering Society (AISES).


Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts (Volume 21, Issues 1 & 2, Spring 2019)

Review by Austin Bennett

What is left when memory fails? Tami Haaland suggests companionship. In her third collection, What Does Not Return, the former Montana Poet Laureate naturally unfolds four interrelated parts that teeter on the spectrum of time. Early, we encounter the role reversal of mother and daughter due to dementia. As memory fails, the daughter faces the burden of becoming “a third person across the table/a listener who hears about my other self/my name, the secrets she would not say.” The dizzying effect implores the daughter to investigate their shared life—recall what can be known—only to discover the limits of memory for both the healthy and the diseased. In an even, unpretentious tone these limits expand outward from the personal to the collective. Cold War missile silos, Chappaquiddick Bridge, and school shootings surface and “never go away;” even when the mind of the one she most desires does.

After the mother’s death, the tension of absence continues to grow in light of companionship’s binding ties. She keeps her mother’s wrist watch and confesses, “Now, I see time/in a glance and I think you must have/something to do with it, still marching me/through the hours and days.” This onward marching leads the daughter through a series of companion poems featuring deer, mosquito, and squirrel that culminate in the title poem with “a hinged wonder.” She collects an oyster from the shoreline “noting that without water/it lost part of its shine.” Feeling responsible for its death, she keeps forgetting to return it to the water captivated by the shoreline full of “open shells . . . their fragments catching the sun/I had to walk away from so much light.” This interplay of death and light reflects the daughter’s overall acceptance of living with death, of absence and companionship—of “what cannot be undone.”

Haaland’s magic is in her consistency. She steers clear of flash-in-the-pan poems to offer something greater. For the caretakers of 5.5 million sufferers of Alzheimer’s/dementia, Haaland’s poetry serves as an empathetic companion. She offers strength through calmness. Hope through accepting life’s tensions.


A Review by Anna Alarcon

June 3, 2020

What Does Not Return by Tami Haaland is a book filled with light. Haaland’s language is as simple and expansive as a prairie, her words rendering beauty in even the darkest of subjects:

What light remains you see in her eyes,
her heavy lids, the bare expression of thin lips. If only the words could ready themselves.
If only the gesture could unfold.
If only the body could launch.1

In her poems, Haaland writes frankly of her mother’s struggle with and eventual death from dementia. But even in this despair, there is light, a metaphor for life’s lasting endurance. On the page, life and death exist side by side; the natural world encroaches on each poem, serving as a reprieve from and a reminder of our small existences. Take, for example, these lines:

She doesn’t care for tame. She prefers
incidental: yellow aster on sand,
blue beetles in waxy cactus flowers,
for three whole days a plum in bloom.2

They are lines firmly planted among poems about the trauma of warfare and gun violence. In Haaland’s works, there is always birdsong, there is always red poppies and rabbits, even in a world with missiles and incurable diseases. Nature exists continuously, like a heartbeat beneath the surface. In one poem, she writes:

This dog looks like a small deer,
poised and silent in the lawn,
but at night, she is a dark body, lean
and long against the lavender cotton
of my summer sleep. We are bone
and bone, muscle and muscle,
and underneath each surface
a quiet and insistent pulse.3

Here is the crux of Haaland’s writing: the interconnectedness of all things. Life and death, joy and misery, all tumbling together in an endless cycle. Her work is the pulse we share with all living things. It is the light pouring into a dark room. What Does Not Return can be purchased at Lost Horse Press.


What is left streams through
late autumn haze and windows to warm
patches of carpet, brightening and
lengthening the space near the rocker.
Her feet touch down, square to the frame.

What light remains you see in her eyes,
her heavy lids, the bare expression of thin lips.
If only the words could ready themselves.
If only the gesture could unfold.
If only the body could launch.

—Tami Haaland