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Newell, South Dakota
About Flavis Bertrand

Flavis Bertrand in Chico, California



Featured in "The Big Roundup," an anthology of the best of


One of

Lariat Laureate Runner Up

Recognized for his poem, The Old Empty House


The Old Empty House

        The Old Empty House stands alone on the prairie
        The shingles are weathered, the siding is worn
        The front step is missing, the wallpaper torn
        The glass is all shattered, there is no front door

        Old Empty House, what a story you might tell
        Of the great western movement and a family so well
        They drove your first nail and set the front door
        They settled down here to live forever and more

        That family is still here out under the grass
        Please, Old House, tell me the story of what came to pass
        They settled here in eighty-eight with dreams of life and the future to come
        The prairie was hard and there was no future for some

        The struggle was great with the terrible winter cold and snow drifts piled high
        Then, blazing heat from the summer clear sky
        The creek ran low and fields were so dry
        The locust swept down and they watched their crops die

        Old Empty House now so weathered and worn
        You stand alone for what they have borne
        Their footsteps are gone, their voices long still
        But you will remember the unbroken will
        They beat this old prairie and changed things around
        They made it a land of sound and song

        They are out there now under the grass
        The great depression came and the dust bowl too
        Their friends most left, there was nothing to do
        They were too old to go yet too tired to stay
        Nothing for them but to wait and pray

        Then time came to pass as it always must
        And they were buried there beneath the prairie dust
        Old Empty House, you molder away
        The story you could tell is only yours this day
        I stand here now in your empty door
        And dream your dreams of what has gone before.

1976, Flavis Bertrand
This poem may not be reposted or reprinted without permission

Illustration by Eleanor Bertrand
Illustration by Eleanor Bertrand


The Prairies

The rolling of the prairie grass
is like waves upon a sea.
It rolls across the heartlands
in one ever lasting lea.

From dawn to dark you ride it
and never find its end.
You can see its ever changing mood
and know the beauty that it lends.

The buttes that rise above it are
not unlike islands in some far off place.
They tower above the land
to seek their own bit of space.

When the wind comes across this land
the grasses wave and roll.
It sweeps away to distant shores
to seek some quiet shoal.

There is ever changing beauty
in this land I try to know
from dawn to dark it changes
in every place I go.

The olden people knew it
and here wandered long ago.
They left their mark upon it
marks that hardly show.

If to know the prairie land
You must see the beauty that it holds.
Look out to that sea of grass
and know the land it molds.

Sit and stare upon its face
and see it roll away in distant plain.
Roll with it across this land
and leave behind the wordly pain.

Many times I have been there
and it always seems to grow.
The peace upon my heart
and in my face should show.

See the ever changing color blend
across the wrinkled face.
Let there be no thought of time
Just enjoy the beauty of the place.

1976, Flavis Bertrand
This poem may not be reposted or reprinted without permission


The Homesteader

We came to the land in 1883
   the air was clean and the land was free.
Me and Ma and all we had
   came to Dakota for good or bad.
We settled down on homestead land
   and started out to raise our band.

Now times were tough and it was rough
   and no money had we then.
We broke ground and leveled the mounds
   and planted what seed we had
It grew right enough in this Dakota land
   and a crop of wheat we had for sure.
The hot winds blew and the locust flew
   and the wheat crop was no more.

We bent our backs and broke more ground
   and waited for the coming year.
Things just had to turn around we knew
   and had no fear.

The winter raged and the snow piled deep
   and it turned to forty below.
We had built our soddy warm through
   and we let it rage outside.
This was tough old land and life was hard
   but still we found ways to carry on.
If we made it then
   we help all who was to come later
   and things just had to be better.

I look out from my rocking chair
   down through the gentle mist of time.
I see things as they once were
   and I'm glad we didn't quit.
Sixty years have passed us by
   and I do see the mighty change
I sure never thought I would see it
   but this country is doing fine.

The old soddy is gone, the outhouse too.
We have indoor plumbing now
   so who cares if it is thirty below.
The kids just don't know
   what they are missing though.
The boys burned down the old outhouse.
I guess they just didn't care what they missed.
Me and old Sears and Roebuck
   spend some time there long ago.

We carried on, Ma and Me
   and things did get better
It seems like all I hear
   is how great it is now.
That junk against the fence,
   that's my old walking plow

My old nags ain't no more
   and we feed a tractor now
One thing about nags,
   we feed them hay
   and got a little something back
   to add to this old soil
The tractor, you feed that
   and all you get
   is a little smoke for your toil.

All these young bucks are always a saying
   how great things are
   so maybe they are right.
I look back in time
   and I see that old soddy again
   and it sure is a pleasant sight.
We had good times there
   Ma and me and the kids
   even though things just wasn't always the best.
Living wasn't too complicated like now
   and that old soddy wasn't a real bad nest.

I guest it's just time
   for an old homesteader man like me
   to walk that last trail.
I think that pretty soon now
   I'll leave this old place
   and go to be with Ma
You just might hear us call sometime
   out of an old Dakota gale.

1976, Flavis Bertrand
This poem may not be reposted or reprinted without permission

About Flavis Bertrand:

Flavis Bertrand's family homesteaded in the Dakota Territory. Flavis was born and raised in Clark, South Dakota. He left home at seventeen to find his way in the world, and after a series of adventures he landed in Chico, California. He attended college until WWII broke out. When he returned from the service he married and settled in Arbuckle, California. After a number of years he returned to his South Dakota roots and lives today in Newell, South Dakota. 

"The Old Empty House" and "The Prairies" are from his book Whispering Wings, with illustrations by his wife Eleanor Bertrand.




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