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Dakota Bones The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom All About the Book

What's Here?

About the Book
Brief information about the contents, publication details, and ordering information.

Reviews and Blurbs
What do others say about this book?

Questions About the Book
Linda tells the story of the Life Magazine photographer documenting calving season who took the cover photo; talks about her decision whether to revise poems when they are reprinted; explains her word choice in a poem; and confesses which poem in the collection won her fame and fortune.

Turtle Dance
Why is the turtle Linda's totem animal? Read the poem "Turtle Dance" from the book Dakota Bones.

Table of Contents
Can you browse through these titles and not want to read the poems to find out who, what, where, and why?

About the Book

Dakota Bones collects the poems of rancher-poet-essayist Linda M. Hasselstrom. The book contains the complete texts of Linda’s earlier work, Caught By One Wing (1984, reprinted 1990) and Roadkill (1987), both out of print, and adds 28 previously unpublished poems (including the perennial favorite, “Mulch”), a preface, a brief autobiographical sketch, and an alphabetical index of titles.

Here are Linda’s observations on the past, present and future of her life in the West, touching on local history (“Homesteading in Dakota”), her childhood (“Tomboy”), ranching (“Rancher Roulette”), living on the land (“Now I Know Grouse”), lessons learned from older relatives (“Handbook to Ranching”), and the unanticipated changes in her life (“Walking the Dog”).

Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom

Poetry, Published 1993 by Spoon River Poetry Press; reprinted
166 pages; size: 5½ X 8½

$9.95 – paperback
ISBN 0-944024-23-8

Book Orders:

You may order the book from Linda and she will autograph it for you--

You may order the book directly from the publisher, especially if you are buying in bulk or wholesale--

Plains Press (formerly Spoon River Poetry Press)
Box 6
Granite Falls, MN 56241
(507) 537-6463
or (612) 564-2424
e-mail: Pichaske@southwest.msus.edu

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Reviews and Blurbs

Charles Woodard, Distinguished Professor of English, South Dakota State University
This place-driven collection of two previously published books of poetry plus thirty new poems vividly expresses the poet's ranching experiences, her complicated, sometimes difficult, often heartening personal relationships, and the western South Dakota landscape.

Emily Johnson, Plainswoman
Her images are stark, exposed, down to the bone. Death, isolation, and hard work are the major themes in the poems, but mingled with stern subject matter are reminders of what makes the effort worthwhile: sunsets and shimmering grass, rodeos and lemon pies, ‘a single lilac shoot beside a rain-pooled rock.’

John Murray, Bloomsbury Review
Hasslestrom is living proof that literature can flourish without a steady supply of grants, fellowships, five-figure advances, national awards, and comfortable sinecures. She works every day on her ranch, but she also publishes at least one good book a year.

Laurel Speer, Small Press Review
To this reader [these poems] were instructive, intelligent, real, and both artistically and emotionally moving.

Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor
There is a band of western writers today examining where their region has come from and where it’s headed. . . . Among the best of those who have lived part of that nation-defining history on ranches and reservations and in small towns across the West: Wallace Stenger, Ivan Doig, Patricia Nelson Limerick, James Welch, Linda Hasselstrom, and a few more.

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The cover photo of Dakota Bones.
(c) Jeff Jacobson, 1989

Questions About Dakota Bones

Q: How did the cover of Dakota Bones come about?

The photo was taken by Jeff Jacobson, a freelance photographer, during April of 1989.
(See his website www.jeffjacobsonphotography.com)

Jeff had come to South Dakota to photograph calving season on the ranch. He either already had a tentative assignment from Life magazine, or he was hoping to sell the story. I’d spoken with him on the telephone and was not enthusiastic about his visit. My husband, George, had been dead only a few months and I was unwilling to have Jeff stay in the house, so he rented a motel room in Rapid City, more than twenty miles away.

My journal says he arrived April 22. I had a migraine headache; I recall that I was able to get up and let him in the door and went immediately back to bed. Hours later when I got up, he was sitting quietly in the living room, reading a magazine.

On April 25 I wrote a list of what he had photographed: feeding hay; cows and calves; me and a calf; me and a barn cat; the horses Spot and Oliver; my neighbor Shirley and me riding; and a photo of me putting a tarp over a cow that hadn’t been able to get up after she calved. The tarp was needed because the weather was misty and foggy. Jeff said “There’s a story with every picture.” Later that night I heard coyotes howling in the direction of the cow; she lived through that night, but she did die.

We probably dragged the dead cow to the boneyard, a spot remote from the ranch buildings where we took dead animals so the coyotes could feed without hindrance from us. The grass is filled with bones from generations of cows we’ve taken there to be tidied up by the coyotes, the buzzards, the insects.

My dog Frodo, a West Highland White Terrier, loved to ramble among the bones, sniffing. He's barely visible in the left background of the photo, blending in with the scattered white bones .

I’d heard of masks made of a cow pelvis, so I held one up in front of my face, and Jeff took some photos.

This was one of several pictures I sent to David Pichaske, the editor of Spoon River Poetry Press, when Dakota Bones was being published. I hoped and expected he might use it for the author photo; I loved the idea of author photos that aren’t posed as usual and make the author unidentifiable. Instead, he chose to use it for the cover.

Q: What was it like to have a photographer documenting your ranch work?

My father was not interested at all in having some New York photographer take pictures of him, or me, or our cattle as they calved, so he was initially not very welcoming. But Jeff persisted, insisting he wouldn’t publish any photographs we didn’t approve.

For the next week or so, he came every day to the ranch, quietly following us everywhere, wearing a couple of cameras. When cows weren’t calving, we’d sit at my dining room table and watch the calving corral. Gradually my father came to enjoy Jeff’s company, so he’d call us when a cow was about to calve. Several times we leaped in my car, raced the 1/4 mile to the corral– and the calf was already born.

Jeff decided the cows were private ladies and didn’t want their pictures taken in such a compromising position. He had other assignments, so he would leave for a few days and while he was gone the cows calved like mad. Finally he moved into my house, staying in the spare room, and my father would even call us in the middle of the night if cows calved. But he never did get photos of a birth in progress.

Q: What was done with the photos Jeff Jacobson took?

The photos were published in Life Magazine in July, 1989– the issue with Jackie Kennedy on the cover. The text for the article was a poem I’d written for George and some of my journal entries.

I’d forgotten until looking at the magazine again the other news of that month: on page 2 is the famous photograph of the lone Chinese student standing in front of the tanks on Tianamen Square in China; there are photographs of the carnage of that day. There’s a story on teen sexuality, on moonrocks, and the “Happy 60th Birthday” story for Jackie Kennedy.

The magazine was published in July while I was in the Rocky Mountains in a rendezvous camp, reenacting the Mountain Man era of the 1840s, so we were supposed to have no television, telephones, modern publications. Still, someone brought the magazine to camp and blew my cover: most of my camping companions had had no idea I was a published writer.

Q: Do you still make pelvis masks?

Years later I tried to make an actual mask from a cow pelvis, but it was too heavy and very hard to place correctly on my face. But whenever visitors come across a pelvis-- and the boneyard is often on the ranch tour-- they often hold it up as a mask.

The poems from Roadkill and Caught By One Wing were republished in Dakota Bones without revision.

Q: When your older poems were collected in Dakota Bones did you revise them?

Here is my reply, excerpted from the preface to Dakota Bones:

Naturally, nearly ten years after publication of those early poems, my writing has changed, as have some of my views; I’ve learned more about poetry. . . . However, I’ve chosen not to revise or delete even poems I consider inferior and wish I hadn’t published. . . . to change published work would be to edit the self and the writer I was then in the light of what I know now. In ten more years, I might do it again; by the time I die, it might appear I’d never written a truly horrible poem, or that writing is a seamless process, a matter of talent alone, without struggle, without development. New writers deserve to know that learning to write well is a slow, laborious maturation . . . Practice can improve a writer who begins badly, but readers may never see bad, early poems by fine poets unless they doggedly search out early periodical publications. As a teacher of new writers of all ages, I’ve declared that practice can improve anyone’s writing, so I can’t hide my failures. . . .

Challenge to new writers: find poems that show awkwardness, less skill than others; analyze how you-- or I-- might rewrite them now. Compare them to your own. Every poem (or story or essay) a writer reads becomes part of that day’s lesson in writing. With Stephen Leacock, "I’m a great believer in luck. I find the harder I work, the more I have of it."

Q: I refer to the poem, "Midnight in Missouri," on page 33. In the fifth line, of the second stanza, you use the word "keen" and it certainly doesn't seem to mean any of the things I've seen it refer to before. Of course, I may be missing your point-- something that's been known to happen before. (To my considerable chagrin.) Would you please take a very few minutes and explain what "keen" means in this line? Surely you don't mean the mountain lion is wailing, or grieving, or lamenting with its cry. Or maybe you do. I shall be interested in what you have to say.

I had to get down my old American Heritage dictionary, still my favorite.

Note that the wind is described as a "nighthowl" early in the poem -- so I am setting the reader up for howling metaphors, and proceeding to the gentle "swoosh" and the more edgy "screeching."

But "screeching" is so overused I look for more, for similarities: coyote cries, wolf voices (stretching it a little at that time since wolves hadn't been heard much east of the Mississippi, though I knew they were in the Montana mountains). I thought of the sound of wind scouring, pine needles blowing--

American Heritage defines "Keen" in this way:

1. Having a fine, sharp cutting edge or point.
I think a mountain lion's cry could metaphorically be said to have a cutting edge.

More Definitions:
2. Having or marked by intellectual quickness and acuity. --No.
3. Acutely sensitive: a keen ear. --No.
4. Sharp; vivid; strong, as keen sensation. --Possibly.
5. Intense; piercing as a keen wind. --Yes.

As I recall this process (and I wrote this poem when I lived in Missouri which would have been between 1969-1972) I thought of the word "keen" as describing a mountain lion's cry, and I also thought of the term "keening" which has been applied to wind in various places, and just combined the two thoughts. I could hear the mountain lion's keen in the wind, imagine it hunting. Then I went to the thought of ghosts of people who died alone; again "keening" has been used to describe the mourning cries of the bereaved.

I'm glad you asked, and glad I could recreate the thought; I couldn't do that with all my poems from that era.


Midnight in Missouri

The radio says, “Fifty degrees tomorrow.”
But I know that windsound, that nighthowl
clear from the Dakotas, across the Badlands,
prairie creeks, hunting grounds, down across Kansas stubble,
swoosh across the rivers, flatlands, through Missouri’s little woods
around my house, still screeching.

How many coyote cries, wolf voices, joined to make that sound?
Spruces whip, wind scours granite rock faces,
pine needles whistle along rock trails,
deer pause, hides twitching, hair blown up straight.
How many mountain lions breathe in that clear keen,
pace along a rock ledge, crouch, flick tail, spring?
Ghosts rise out of prairies where they fell alone,
lay in the sun and rain before the wolves came
and the buzzards circled.

The screams go on within their dusty brains,
ride the wind to mine.

# # #

© Linda M. Hasselstrom
Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom
Spoon River Poetry Press, 1993

Linda at the Post Office
In a rural community, the Post Office is a place to meet neighbors and exchange local news.

Q: Did any of your poems in Dakota Bones earn you fame and fortune?

My poem "Clara: In the Post Office" may be one of my better-known and most lucrative poems, because it has been reprinted a number of times and has garnered actual cash for its use, which is somewhat unusual for a lesser-known poet. Often my poems are printed in small poetry magazines or anthologies and the only payment is copies of the publication.

"Clara" has been published in the following:

-- Roadkill, Granite Falls, MN: Spoon River Poetry Press, 1987
-- Lactuca #7 (A journal of poetry and short stories), Suffern, NY: Mike Selender, publisher, July/August 1987
-- As Far as I Can See: Contemporary Writing of the Middle Plains, Lincoln, NE: Windflower Press, 1989
-- Dakota Bones The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom, Granite Falls, MN: Spoon River Poetry Press, 1993
-- High Country News, March 4, 1996, Vol. 28, No. 4, p. 8-9 (And for this publication I was paid $50, which is a high rate of pay for a poem!)
-- Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace, Sandpoint, ID: Lost Horse Press, 2015

Garrison Keillor read the poem three separate times on The Writer’s Almanac, American Public Media, broadcast on National Public Radio on July 14, 2002, September 29, 2010, and September 23, 2016. (I received a total of $375 for the three readings, making this my best-paid single poem to date.)

Click to listen to Garrison Keillor read "Clara In the Post Office" on the Writer's Almanac podcast for September 23, 2016.

As for fame, the first time Garrison Keillor read the poem on The Writer’s Almanac, I received a few– maybe five– comments from people who heard it. But after the most recent time, reflecting the spread of the internet and the number of people who listen to the show, dozens of people emailed me, wrote notes, or stopped me at public events to tell me they enjoyed that poem.

Q: What was your inspiration for the poem?

The title, “Clara: in the Post Office,” sets the scene: in our rural area, a good deal of visiting is done in the local post office, so Clara is an amalgam of the women I have heard holding forth on a winter morning, their wool pants, wet from chores, steaming in the heat as they warm up a little before they head back to feed some more cows.

When I wrote it I was thinking of several strong women in our community, but especially my aunt Josephine. After I married George Snell, she always called me “Mrs. Snell” though I had not changed my name from “Hasselstrom” when I married. Josephine always had her own cattle brand, owned her own sheep, kept her own bank accounts, and didn’t ever ask my uncle Harold for permission to do anything. But she would never have called herself a feminist.

And during December, 2010, I received this comment from a woman cowboy poet: “I love your poem about Clara: In the Post Office. I always felt the same way. I think when a woman works with men all the time, she can’t have that “feminist” chip on the shoulder.”

Perhaps the number of women who are, or were, like Clara, is reflected in the number of times and places the poem has been published.

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Some of my turtle collection.

Turtle Dance

For years, my personal symbol, the creature I have chosen to remind me what is needed to make my life more harmonious, is the turtle.

Many of us think of a turtle only as standing for slow movement in the race with the speedy rabbit. Early Christians reportedly didn't like turtles, seeing them as symbols of evil forces-- and perhaps that view carried over into the modern day. In Greece, turtles were once believed to be citizens of hell.

Yet virtually every other culture endows the turtle with respect. Some Far Eastern natives believed the turtle’s top shell resembles the round ceiling of heaven hanging over the square, flat bottom shell, symbolizing earth. Thus the animal united heaven and earth, making them a natural conduit for rituals linking the two.

Moreover, turtles came to symbolize longevity since they do not appear to age. In the Hindu religion, turtles are symbols of immortality, considered temporary dwelling places for souls making their way through a series of lives on the path to Nirvana. According to some Native American tales, the Earth Diver turtle swam to the bottom of the water that covered everything, surfacing with mud which the creator used to make the earth.

Some turtles’ upper shells are divided into thirteen segments. In the lunar calendar, thirteen full moons alternate with thirteen new moons each year. Many believe this is where the association with the female energies originated, causing the turtle to be associated with the primal mother and Mother Earth.

I began collecting turtle images with the shallowest of motives: to remind myself to slow down and “win the race” like the tortoise rather than galloping through life like the heedless hare. But reading about other cultures’ beliefs has expanded my appreciation for the turtle’s power.

Turtles remind us, say the scholars, that the way to heaven is through the earth. Our Mother the Earth is capable of supplying our needs, protecting and nurturing us– as long as we do the same for her. In order to succeed, we must slow down, pay attention, see the connections between all beings, all occupants of the planet.

Just as turtle cannot separate itself from its shell, neither can we separate ourselves from what we do to the earth.

From "Summer’s End: From Magpie Mind to Turtle Tranquility"
a Home Page Message by Linda M. Hasselstrom, posted for Samhain, October 31, 2012
find the entire essay in the Home Page Message archives


Turtle Dance

The turtles migrate through
Missouri in the spring, slow
claws pulling north. Cars
roll over them, paving dirt
roads in cold blood; earth
is parqueted in crushed green
shell. Nothing halts their slow
dance. I knew a girl who
couldn't stand the crunch;
she'd stop the car, carry them
one by one off the road. She
bought a bicycle finally.
Driving to the store for food
was either too much death
or too much turtle transportation.
That's fifteen years ago.

I know
the turtles still march north.

# # #

© Linda M. Hasselstrom
Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom
Spoon River Poetry Press, 1993
page 22

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Dakota Bones: The Collected Poems of Linda Hasselstrom
Table of Contents

Title Page (page iii)

Copyright Page with Dedication (page iv)

Table of Contents (page v)

Preface (page ix)


Quote by Georgia O'Keefe on bones (page 1)

Staying in One Place (page 3)
Bone (4)
Spring (5)
Mulch (6)
Deer (7)
Seasons in South Dakota (8)
Grandmother (10)
Memorial Day (11)
When My Father Waters His Trees (12)
Digging Potatoes (13)
Blackbirds (14)
The Poet Falls in Love with a Cowboy (16)


Rankin Ridge: Only an Ancient Moon (page 19)
Walking Fence (20)
This Year (21)
Turtle Dance (22)
Nude: 1976 (23)
Sky Ranch: Coming Back (24)
Shooting Prairie Dogs (25)
Posing (26)
Poem for N’de, Too Late (27)
Leaving Fargo: April (28)
In the Dashboard Glow (29)
Uncle (30)


Midnight in Missouri (page 33)
Homesteading in Dakota (34)
Haying: A Four-Part Definition (36)
Hospital Talk (38)
Exits (39)
Lamp Lighting (40)
Cyllene (41)
Telegram Announcing the Death of My Father (42)
John Neihardt (43)
Dreaming of the Goddess (44)
This Is (45)
The Buffalo at Midnight (46)


Elegy on a Dead Cow (page 49)
Hands (50)
Scrubbing Parsnips in January (52)
Calving Time (53)
Butchering the Crippled Heifer (54)
Planting Peas (56)
Hang Gliding (57)
One April Day (58)
The Last Word (59)
Saying Goodbye (60)
Helicopter Crash (61)
Settlers (62)
Milliron Ranch (63)
Apologies to Frost’s Neighbors (64)
Medicine Rock Rodeo (65)
Coring Apples (66)
Drying Onions (67)
Happy Birthday (68)
How to Find Me (70)
Seven Lessons on the Grass (72)


Roadkills and the I Ching (page 75)
Driving into a Storm (77)
Down the Highway: Your Tax Dollars at Work (78)
Interstate 90 (80)
For Pat, Who Wasn’t Home (81)
Why I’m Wearing Red Lipstick (82)
Showering with a Grapefruit Rind (83)
I Followed You (84)
Flying Over the Badlands (85)
Trans-World Airlines (86)
Sky Ranch: The Poet Leaving (88)
The Blind Corral (89)
Advice to Jockeys and Others (90)
She Drives a Pickup Wearing Pink Shoes (91)
Tapestry (92)
Not Flying Alone (93)
Letter Home (94)


First Night Alone on the Ranch (page 97)
Fahrenheit (98)
Up at Sunrise (99)
Clara: In the Post Office (100)
Handbook to Ranching (101)
Rancher Roulette (102)
Ralph Jones: On Borrowing (104)
Auction (105)
Alice Johnson: Matriarch (106)
New Year’s Eve After Leaving My Husband (107)
Before I Met You (108)
Now I Know Grouse (109)
Child’s Play (110)
Priorities: 1898, Upper Yukon (111)
MacDuff: A Scot in the Country (114)
Fourteen (115)
Tomboy (116)
Hannah: Dying in the Hospital (119)
Goodbye (120)


Wind (page 123)
You Loved Those City Lights (124)
Shearing: Wyoming (126)
Calvin (127)
Hunter’s Moon Madness (128)
Behind Roughlock Falls (129)
Walking the Dog (130)
Waiting (132)
Driving to Chadron, Listening to the News (133)
Following a Cabin Cruiser in a Blizzard (134)
The New Hope City Bank (136)
Visit to Huntington (138)


Drowning (page 141)
Standing Stones: Loch Stemster (142)
Dear Suzan (144)
Dawn, After Hearing William Stafford (145)
At the Poetry Festival (146)
The Successful Writer (148)
This Poem You’re Thinking About Writing (149)
Missing the Chance (150)
The Iron Pool at Ojo Caliente (151)
Ironwood Trees: A Painting (152)
The House with Three Blue Windows (154)
This World, and the Last (155)
Traveling Poem (156)
After the Rain, I See Her Walking (157)

Alphabetical List of Titles (page 159)

About the Author (page 163)

Acknowledgements (page 165)

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