We was all afraid of that bridge, just
ropes and slats, spaces between where
the crick came right up at you if
you looked down at it, and Billy, that’s
what we called him, after the fairy-tale,
squattin’ underneath. I was eight. Mama
sent me for flour. I had to cross the bridge
goin’ and comin’, tryin’ not to look, but
thinkin’ about all those rocks underneath,
the water, and me not able to swim.
I was pleased with myself on the way
back, practicin’ holdin’ the flour on
one hip, the way I did John Jr. and Brooks,
pretendin’ it was a baby, only I was
the mama and not the sister, got
the lovin’ and not just the diapers.
Five pounds is a lot; I know that now,
enough to throw off your balance
suspended by ropes and held up
by slats, weighin’ just a small multiple
of five and the wind in the hollar.
Maybe I wanted to fall. I think that,
too, but not into Billy Gruff’s arms
or close to.
I landed flat on my back, cradlin’
that bag just like it really was a baby
all the way down until the sharp point
of a rock almost halved me, and I
let loose the way Mama did when
Brooksie was being born.
The flour started makin’ itself
into other things the minute it hit
the water: snowflakes and stars,
crooked-creek clouds, and me
just watchin’, wantin’ to scoop
it all up, bring it to Mama, knowin’
five cents was heavier than five pounds.
Billy picked me up, slung me over
his back and carried me home, just
like we actually knew each other, not
me just knowin’ the top of his head and
him knowin’ the shape of my shoes,
the space between my legs up under
He didn’t say nothin’ or even knock
when he brought me in the house,
laid me on the bed. Mama ran after
him, yellin’, what have you done?
caught in my throat as
she chased him down the road.
I spent a week in bed. Couldn’t get up
not even to pee. The girls took turns
changin’ the sheets of the bed we shared.
After she was done cryin’ about the nickel
and the flour, Mama brought me saltines
and cider from Uncle Lawrence, tellin’
me as she tipped the cup, how those
saltines could be bread, if only I hadn’t
dropped the flour.
Polly, Age Nine
I got my embarrassment
at Twelve Pole Creek
I was messin’ with crawdads
wearing just panties
a group of boys came by
they didn’t say nothin’
didn’t do nothin’
Or even look at me
I had a stick, but
I hadn’t been pokin’
but then the boys came
and I knew
by the way I felt
just the way I felt inside
that I couldn’t go
without a shirt again.
Tiff Holland's poetry and prose regularly appear in literary journals. Her novella, "Betty Superman," recently appeared in "My Very End of the Universe." Tiff teaches at Windward Community College on Oahu.