Category Archives: Linda M. Hasselstrom

February 14 – Valentine for My Mother

by Linda M. Hasselstrom

January 7.

On this day in 1957, a Monday, my mother wrote, “A lovely washday. . . . and I felt like working.” What a good reminder that I should concentrate on the positive things my parents wrote! I’m so invigorated that I take a break from my writing to mop the kitchen floor.

February 14. Valentine’s Day. 10 degrees with a cold wind at 5:26 a.m..

Valentine for my Mother

Cut flowers don’t last
says a woman’s voice.
I spin around in the Safeway aisle
expecting to see my mother
who’s been dead all winter.

Cut flowers don’t last,
she says again,
the woman with blue hair
beside the flower display,
shaking her head at the young man
still reaching for a bouquet
wrapped in red paper.

She sounds like my mother,
mouth pursed, not smiling,
each time I brought a bouquet
to the nursing home. You shouldn’t
have spent the money, she’d say.
Cut flowers don’t last.

I picked them
from my garden, I’d say.
She’d snort.
Cut flowers don’t last.
So I brought slips
from my plants,
potted them for
her window sill. She didn’t
give them water.

When I was growing up
Mother served our meals on Melmac
scrawled with scratches,
kept the good china
in the cupboard
so it would last.

During that final year
she was alive, she asked once
about her good china. Safe
in my glass-front hutch, I told her.

At ninety-two she took her final breath.
I covered her pink enamel coffin
with roses the color of every blouse
she gave me no matter how many times
I told her I hated pink.
As I paid the florist
with her money, I told him
Cut flowers don’t last.

Now in the Safeway aisle
I smile at the young man
who is carrying the flowers
toward the checkout stand.
Cut flowers don’t last
she says once more.

Tomorrow all the blooms
that do not sell will pucker
in the dumpster
brown as the roses whipped
by the cemetery wind
the day after my mother’s burial.
Cut flowers don’t last
I muttered to the mound
above her heart.

I gave her dishes to my cousin’s
daughter. In my gardens,
I cut flowers, thinking of my mother.
Blooms scent every room,
reflect themselves even
in the bathroom mirror.
Every night from the arbor
I watch the sunset
that will never come again.

I’ve worked on that poem a long time, half embarrassed because of its negative mood, but it expresses feelings I’ve carried for a long time too, and my recovery from them.

February 15.

And all day, whenever I looked down at the ranch buildings, I thought I saw my father just stepping into the corral or my mother shaking a rug on the porch.

—From Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, High Plains Press, 2017. paperback, 320 pages, $19.95; limited edition hardcover, 320 pages, $29.95.

Linda M. Hasselstrom conducts writing retreats in person and by email from her South Dakota ranch. Her newest of 17 books is Gathering from the Grassland: A Plains Journal, written thirty years after her first book, Windbreak, also a ranch diary. Recent poems appear in Dakota: Bones, Grass, Sky (Spoon River Poetry Press).

June 10 – Gleaning is Writing

by Linda M. Hasselstrom

Excerpted from September 22-23, Autumnal Equinox: Shop with Your Senses from The Wheel of the Year: A Writer’s Workbook.

The pink tongue of sunrise slurps across the thin black treetops as I lift my cup. Duggan’s tags jingle softly as he thumps downstairs to get in my lap.

Then I spill coffee, reminding myself my little Westie has been dead nearly a month. With my journal on my knee, I make a note about Duggan’s grin. I get more coffee mostly to stop patting the spot where he always lay against my thigh.

Living means gleaning, gathering, collecting: paying attention to whatever is around me at any moment. Watering a house plant I found discarded in the alley, I notice the butterfly-shaped shell I picked up on an Oregon beach on September 12, 2001. We knew what had happened to the Twin Towers, but with no television we walked the beach, especially glad to be alive beneath a blue sky empty of planes. We talked about a world suddenly simplified, but more frightening.

Another plant is mulched with glassies my father collected shooting marbles with his friends in grade school ninety years ago. The school yard is covered by a parking lot, so only my memory can glean those marbles now.

This collecting habit of mine continues throughout the seasons but seems especially appropriate in autumn, when we harvest summer fruits. Our ancestors expressed gratitude by sharing breads, nuts, apples and vegetables, pledging to share the bounty during the winter.

So my house pulses with my memories of my travels and my joy at coming home, with souvenirs of this life. My writing, too, blooms with the echoes of ideas gleaned from every step I take, liking my life with those that preceded and will follow mine.

“From fire to water to earth and to wind” runs a chant of commemoration, “The circle of life, the dance without end.” Writing is a dance.

What have you gleaned this year, literally and figuratively? What writing have you rescued from the discard pile?

Write a poem or piece of prose created entirely from proverbs. Start by collecting proverbs that you recall your parents or other elders telling you when you were a child, then see how you can recombine the lines to create something new. Here are a few familiar proverbs to start your thinking process:

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

“The early bird catches the worm.”

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.”

Choose a poem that you admire that makes a statement of the speaker’s beliefs. Write a poem in imitation of it, using details from your own life as the poet does to state your own beliefs.

List the things you do not regret in your life. Is there a poem or essay in your list? Or more than one!

Linda Hasselstrom is the author of The Wheel of the Year: A Writer’s Workbook; Dirt Songs: A Plains Duet, with Twyla M. Hansen; No Place Like Home: Notes from a Western Life, Between Grass and Sky, Feels Like Far, Bitter Creek Junction, Land Circle, Dakota Bones, Going Over East, Windbreak, Bison: Monarch of the Plains, When a Poet Dies, The Roadside History of South Dakota, Roadkill, Caught By One Wing.

She is editor of Leaning into the Wind, Woven on the Wind, Crazy Woman Creek with Gaydell Collier and Nancy Curtis; also editor of Journal of a Mountain Man, by James Clyman.