Prairie Grass Ballet: A Grassland Cento

Elizabeth Hellstern

(Inscribed in the granite base of the “Prairie Grass Ballet” sculpture in The Arts Center’s Hansen Arts Park, Jamestown, ND)

Somewhere below the sky highways
is one of those lost places in which I have found myself.
If you’re not from the prairie
you can’t know such simple love.

The prairie, although plain, inspires awe.
Grandeur can be wide as well as tall.
And my body’s long quarrel with my mind
is silenced by a landscape and a sky.

I know the prairie is patient.
That this grain, too,
will root and resurrect.
The spring flowers break on the gray prairie.

The hot July winds
gathered forces from across the plains.
North Dakota winds in grassland,
now that’s constancy.

We know all about time now,
how it speeds, how it slows.
The long hour of the prairie
grows richer as it ages.

The prairie is a community.
The whole home,
the whole soul.
In this place, only space is grand.

(with lines from “The River of the Milky Way” by Richard Watson, “Afternoon of a McGrath” and “Such Simple Love” by Thomas McGrath, “If You’re Not From the Prairie” by David Bouchard, “What the Prairie Teaches Us” by Paul Gruchow, “Missouri Breaks” by Timothy Murphy, “Dear New” by Larry Woiwode, “North Dakota” by Gerald Vizenor, “My Grandfather Was a New Initiate” by Denise Lajimodiere, “Boom” by Heid E. Erdrich, “Watching” by Madelyne Camrud, “American Hitchhiking Blues” by Dale Jacobson, “Mrs. Pulaski’s Shrine” by Aaron Poochigian, and “Cardinal Directions: Divorce Fugue” by Heidi Czerwiec.)

Elizabeth Hellstern is a writer and creator. She is a graduate from the MFA in Creative Writing program at Northern Arizona University. Her multi-genre work is accepted and published in literary journals such as Hotel Amerika, Slag Glass City, Queen Mob’s Tea House, Blotterature Literary Magazine,and New WorldWriting. Her essay “This Weather Report Brought to You by Autism” was published in The Narrow Chimney Reader: Volume 1. Hellstern is the creator of the public art installation the Telepoem Booth, where members of the public can dial-a-poem on a rotary phone in a 1970s style phone booth: TelepoemBooth.com

This poem appeared in North Dakota Quarterly 83.4 (2016).

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