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In Plains Sight

For the kind indulgences of the people of the northern plains, who not only tolerate my essays here on our public radio voice but even speak kindly to me about them, I feel like I owe a gift of the season, and here it is: a set of stanzas by our premier poet, once emergent and now rampant, Bonnie Larson Staiger.

Bonnie’s most recent collection is In Plains Sight, published by North Dakota State University Press. This is a self-conscious work. The dedication invokes children, grandchildren, and generations beyond, acknowledging a mission that goes beyond family, a place in the letters of the plains, in the regional project. I have said to Bonnie, you have a mantle: it carries expectations, and she accepts them.

I take care what I say here, for Bonnie is not a woman to be trifled with. Through her life in our capital city, she has seen a lot of things, and carried herself through them with grace. Now she scans a wider landscape and voices the settler society of the Great Plains.

With due attention to its iconographic traditions—barbwire, coyote, monarch, corn, wheat, roughneck. But with a shifting focus that is not always comfortable; I read poems like “Memory Care” and have to set the book down for a while. There emerges, too, a sense of having lived a fair span of life. I laugh, and then I don’t, as I read,

When we found ourselves at a certain age
My friend asked, “Did you notice when
You became invisible?

Gone are the times when a certain sequined dress
Or a runway-walk in spectator pumps
Would own a room.

But now, that gift of which I spoke at the outset. I say it is for you, but really, it is a gift to myself to roll the words on my tongue.


Let it be about farmed fields
corn tall and wheat flaxen.
The edges of town fenced—
planted into mowed lawns.

Sometimes it’s about the plains.
Great Plains and high plains--vast
virgin prairies and short grass
prairies, grasses for grazing.

You know it all—the whistle
of wind through seed heads.
A whiff of sage in the air from
nowhere. Sometimes it’s a deep

tangle of roots below ground
or a thatch of sturdy stalks
crisp underfoot—revealing
what you didn’t see yesterday.

Then let it be about grasslands
Unfenced—wide as the dome of sky
corralled by earth’s curving. Then
we see everything and nothing.

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