The Alberta Clipper
Babe Ruth, or simply “The Babe,” hit his 700th career home run 80 years ago, on July 14th, 1934. His final record of 714 career home runs, set the next May, lasted for nearly forty years, finally broken by Hank Aaron in 1974; only Aaron and Barry Bonds have bested the Babe in the time since. “Suppose You Never Hit a Home Run” has a more somber tone than this 80th anniversary warrants, but Milton Speiser reminds his readers that even if they aren’t superstars, the world will note their passing nonetheless. Published in the Spring 1952 issue of the Schooner, “Suppose You Never” came forth into a chilly spring, placing in the cooler third of Lincoln’s historical springs, even though the last snow fell at the beginning of April. –Tory Clower
Suppose You Never Hit a Home Run
But suppose you never won the Davis Cup,
Never hit a home run,
Suppose you were never cheered by a crowd, nobody ever asked you for an autograph,
Suppose you were never a champ, but only a fighter in the prelims.
Bowed by boredom, toil and tears,
Wrap your mind in funny papers,
And live your life in ciphers
Down the mean streets of the years.
No retreat from the electric bill, the water-closet in the hall,
From dayspring to sunfall eke hunger,
And in the black hallways, on the fetid streets
Rear the fruit of your one-room loves.
In the clinic,
This your beloved body under the knife,
The last white light bright on the bone,
Pay breath’s last pinched penny
And into the ether cone whisper the last abject farewell.
Wreathe the tenements in black, fold in crepe the gutted brick,
Swathe the basements in black, and the railroad flats,
Spray perfume in the police precinct, strew flowers in the pool parlor, close the beer joints this one day,
And stick a lily in every manhole cover.
But when that hearse passes let some horns blow,
And let a wind take the crepe and rustle the leaves on the wreaths,
Let night fall in the mean streets
And one child cry.
On June 23rd, 1989, Batman (the first feature-length Batman movie since 1966) opened in theaters. Starring Michael Keaton as playboy millionaire/caped vigilante Bruce Wayne and Jack Nicholson as his Joker nemesis, Batman went on to gross over $400 million in box-office totals worldwide and paved the way for Hollywood’s treatment of superhero movies today.
In the fall of 2008, Erinn Batekyfer’s poem “Small Boys, Three and Four” was published in the Prairie Schooner. That fall’s average temperature was 53.2°F, which was fairly standard; September was warmer than normal but both October and November were both cooler than the average, and September and October netted almost four extra inches of precipitation together. – Tory Clower
Small Boys, Three and Four
for Oscar and Ike
Pickers of elaborate latches and locks;
knowers of terrible facts whose faces contort
into the faces of pythons unhinging their jaws
to swallow enormous antelopes whole;
tiers of mind-boggling nets of knots and diggers
of holes in the middle of the backyard;
disdainers of clothing whose Batman underwear
is all that reminds between you and gravity, now,
that force you experiment with like mad scientists;
wearers of yellowing bruises and bumps, proof
of how many chairs you’ve misjudged the leap from
in your frenetic living room lab—forget Newton!—
I see now, as you pile every blanket in the house
at the foot of the stairs and ready yourselves to jump,
that his laws cannot apply here, his equations
did not factor you in as variables, nor this part of you
that will never be sure you can’t fly, making every leap
the leap during which you might.
The winter of 1998-1999 stands as Lincoln’s thirteenth-warmest on record, with an average temperature of 30.6*. In fact, that February ranks as Lincoln’s third-warmest February, with a balmy average of 37.3*! The season still managed to net a total of over two feet of snow, although that was a sure respite from the year before, in which nearly twice that amount had blanketed Nebraska for months on end. Douglas Goetsch’s poem “Watching Golf on Father’s Day” provided a reminder that nicer weather was on its way – Lincoln’s June temperatures are typically in the 70s, and many Lincolnites celebrate Father’s Day with a round on one of the 17 golf courses in town. –Tory Clower
Watching Golf on Father’s Day
All those queer wasp names --
Kirk Triplett, Corey Pavin, Davis Love III --
those British stiffs whispering
ecstatically into the microphone.
They actually called one shot
“courageous.” I hate golf.
I sat alone in my apartment
rooting for Payne Stewart,
the one wearing old-fashioned knickers
who couldn’t get out of the sand trap --
C’mon Payne! Go get ‘em Payne! --
as the shadows grew long as fingers.
Dad would watch all afternoon,
right ankle glued to left knee.
When I asked how the ball could roll
so far on grass, he said,
“Those greens are as smooth as your mother’s rump.”
Mom said, “Dear!”
“Shh!” –Jack Nicklaus, “The Golden Bear,”
was getting set to putt. Buried
in the basement lay his gear, rusted
spikes of his shoes, his sand wedge
which could turn your head to jelly
if he teed off on you.
We went golfing, once. I was nineteen.
He was divorced and remarried.
He’d hit it a mile into trees
and say, “Son of a bitch!”
I’d hit grounders to the women’s tee
and say, “Son of a bitch!”
and we laughed, letting everyone
play through. I kept reaching down
to touch the greens. On the last hole
he kicked my ball out of a bunker
so I could make par, so he could say,
“Atta boy!” – the most fatherly
thing he’s ever done.
Alicia Ostriker’s poetry career spans fifty years, thirteen books of poetry (two of which were National Book Award finalists), and poems published in ten separate issues of Prairie Schooner. This year, she will be taking a different role at the Schooner: that of guest editor for the upcoming winter issue.
Her poem “Normal Light” was published in the Schooner’s winter issue of 2003, a season that averaged a temperature of 26.9°F and received a total of 31.7 inches of snow, which is about 25% higher than the norm. –Tory Clower
Normal light never killed anything.
When I beam my affection at you
Do not duck. It is not bullets.
Do not try to impersonate Superman.
It is not a laser.
What normal light wishes and dreams about
During its flight is how it will encounter
An object: every photon imagines this
The way we imagine gateways, that slowly open
As we fly toward them, into gardens,
The poppies and peonies making their mouths wide.
What actually happens to the light:
Striking a surface, some particles rebound
Like marbles, some are absorbed
And become heat, that’s it.
That’s usually it. But some
Flash on and inward to the curious cave
That is light’s garden, light’s antithesis,
And form an image.
Sometimes an object struck
Where it has eyes, will see.
Light dreams of this.
In 1966, Easter was celebrated on April 10th. In Lincoln that year, the last measurable snow fell on March 27th, but there was a trace of snow during the month of April. For Lincolnites, it’s about a fifty-fifty split on whether or not they’ll see snow in April; once the calendar moves to May, the chance of snowfall decreases dramatically (since 1900, May snows have only happened three times). That spring, Prairie Schooner published the poem “Easter Song,” written by Yvan Goll and posthumously translated by John Palen. Goll was a poet who wrote in both French and German; he described his ethnicity as “by fate a Jew, by an accident born in France, on paper a German.” – Tory Clower
When Easter came around
the grass was new and sweet
and an old daisy sprouted
as innocent as that
and a blond lambkin came
as innocent as that
and had so great a hunger
it ate the daisy neat
and a red butcher came
who never heard of spite
and butchered up the lambkin
for it was his by right
and a black horseman came
who asked not this or that
but simply shot the butcher
and down to mutton sat
and a white winter came
and covered up the spite
the lamb the butcher the horseman
the song and who knows what
Translated by John Palen
After heavy Allied bombardment of the Japanese islands, American troops landed in Okinawa on April 1st, 1945 for the “beginning of the end” of World War II in the Pacific Theatre. The Battle of Okinawa was fought until mid-June and called the “typhoon of steel” for its intensity and the ferocity of Japan’s kamikaze attacks. Less than two months after Japan’s loss on Okinawa, the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki finally ended the bloody conflict. According to nebraskahistory.org, nearly 140,000 Nebraskans joined the fight against the Axis and served in every branch of the military; an estimated 40,000 are still living in Nebraska today.
Jeanne Murray Walker’s wartime poem “Oh You Kid!” was published in the fall of 1996. That autumn (which, with a seasonal average of 50°F, became one of Lincoln’s top-ten coldest falls), the Lincoln Stars ice hockey team began their career at the Ice Box arena. They proceeded to make the playoffs nine of their first ten seasons and are still a popular fixture for Lincoln’s sports fans.
Jeanne Murray Walker
Oh You Kid!
“The body’s coming later,” the cop shouts,
tossing the arm to her, and driving off
as she stares at red hair riding the hump of forearm,
feels cold fingers flop like rubber. She’s
the night nurse, my mother, younger than my daughter
as I write this, telling the story after fifty years.
I imagine outside streetlights burning low to save juice
for boys in Okinawa and inside, the hemorrhage
spreading across her white uniform,
her nurse’s oath billowing like a MISS AMERICA
banner across her chest! Oh no! she laughs.
She was stupid, she says, with cow eyes,
like the disciple Peter in the window
of First Baptist Church, fixed in a collision
of colored glass, pinned to that arm, not knowing
how she got there. She tells how she scrubbed,
but even righteous, undiluted bleach would not
erase the stain. She had to throw her uniform away,
go without breakfast for a month to buy another.
It’s coming back to her, now that she’s eighty,
how nothing she did was ever wasted. She’s
shifting into high gear. She wants us to know
how she stuffed the arm into the freezer,
and when the body came in, she helped sew
the thing back on, Raggedy Andy style.
Years later, the man stopped in to thank her.
“Oh, you kid!” he shouted, and shook her hand,
using the arm. She presses his handshake
into my palm. I pass it to my laughing daughter.
It is the vagrant lost-arm signal, the secret
message, proof of how far down the road
toward dead a thing can be and still
get turned around in the other direction.
St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated in Lincoln, Nebraska, in much the same way as other cities. The local Irish pubs pull out all the stops; people wear green clothes and shamrock buttons; corned beef and cabbage are consumed in mass quantities. Something that stands out in Nebraska, however, is the annual Leprechaun Chase 10K. Held between Lincoln and Omaha at Mahoney State Park, runners line up in waves separated by gender. Why? Well, once the starting gun fires, the ladies have a five-and-a-half minute head start before the “chaser wave” of men follow them. If a woman wins the race, all the girls get a free green beer at the after party; if a man manages to catch up and cross the finish line first, all the guys enjoy their free green beer. Runners can also compete to win a “Best Dressed” prize if their St. Pat’s outfit makes others green with envy!
Mitchell Wojtycki’s “Calculations of Being,” published in Prairie Schooner in the summer of 1966, looks at St. Patrick’s Day with a cynically self-aware eye; the weather in Lincoln that summer was as average as they come, with a mean temperature of 75.4 ˚F for the season. -Tory Clower
Calculations of Being
I wore green on St. Patrick’s Day,
hid like a leprechaun among the clover,
hoping someone would guess I’m not Irish.
When Christmas came I sent out cards,
handmade, unsentimentally religious,
hoping someone would guess I’m an atheist.
I’ve dismissed the sunset summarily,
made acid comments about nature,
hoping someone would guess I’m a poet.
And so it goes. Each mask masterful.
Each gesture calculated to imply,
by sheer weight of insistence, an unreality.
We are, you see, much of one,
faces pasted flesh on bone,
your mask, and mine, dumbly borne,
wearing out the wearer as it’s worn.
On February 9th, 1964, the “British Invasion” swept America as the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show for the first time; that summer, the Rolling Stones pushed the Invasion all the way to Nebraska, performing at the Omaha Civic Auditorium (still a fixture in Omaha’s downtown today) during their first American tour. In Lincoln that February, the average temperature was 31.3Â°F with a low ofÂ 8Â°F and less than one total inch of precipitation. Ellen Saunders uses the Beatles as a cultural touchstone in her poem “Taffeta,” published by the Prairie Schooner in the summer of 2009. -Tory Clower
As a girl, she perfected the fox-trot
in the hotels of St. Louis. A taffeta
skirt circled her ankles, its swishing sound
followed her as she moved across the high
ceilinged room with crystal chandeliers,
the sounds of Glen Miller. Raven hair fell
down her shoulders, her eyes like sapphires.
Too soon, she married, moved to suburbia,
had seven children, and ceased to dance.
She wore cotton skirts until she discovered
no-iron polyester. The Beatles blasted
from her radio. But she never forgot
the dance, the way she was wrapped
in taffeta the color of peaches.
An average temperature of 25.9°F nudges the winter of 1979-1980 slightly into the cooler half of Lincoln’s winters, with a total of 12 days at or below 0°F. In comparison, the previous winter had a total of nearly three times as many <0°F days. Lincoln’s then-population of roughly 172,000 people (now 34 years later, up to ~265,000) watched 23.3 inches of snow accumulate over the course of the winter, and Rachel Hadas’ “Blaue Stunde” (German for “blue hour,” referring to the quality of light at dusk) was published in the Prairie Schooner. -Tory Clower
Behind the golf course trail some pale remains
Of sunset. Primly ice-slicked, the hill shines.
Booted, I trudge through silence, twilight, ice,
Turn from the hill, turn back, take all in twice.
The course is punctuated by great stones.
Slowly beside a sluggish brown canal
I walk back to a clapboard house that will
Inexorably, inevitably, become
At two or three removes my house. My home.
My face is freezing. No one’s out at all.
The sky glints cleanly as an endless plate
Tilted above the neat suburban street.
Antique, enduring, flawless porcelain,
It somehow mutes the slowly slipping sun.
In fact I’ve missed the instant when the sun went down.
Shadows are slyly lengthening, but still
Some frozen snowlumps gleam by the canal.
In fading light I almost feel alone.
I walk alone. I am no longer one.
A new year, resolutions, double will
Bind both of us, two shoots by now, one tree.
I hurry toward you. Darkness follows me.
The water flowing in the narrow brook
Ticks, it’s so close to freezing. One last look.
The house is waiting, and it’s time for tea.
Knute Skinner’s “Christmas Stars” was published in the fall issue of Prairie Schooner in 1957. The “stepped-on snow” in Lincoln was especially heavy that year; with a total 38.8 inches of snow, the snowfall season (September-May) still ranks 18th out of Lincoln’s recorded 114 winters. Over just two days in November, a total of 11 inches fell! With all that snow, the fall’s average temperature was just 51.5°F, placing in the cooler fifth of Lincoln’s autumns. In Lincoln on November 30th, the soon-to-be-infamous Charles Starkweather committed his first murder; on January 21st, 1958, his killing spree with his girlfriend-cum-accomplice Caril Ann Fugate began. They murdered 10 people before surrendering to police on January 28th. -Tory Clower
The stars are out again; uncertainly
they drip from corners to the street below.
Seasonally they glance the passing face
and spot the edges of the stepped-on snow.
A certain image fashioned of strong flesh
in bulby spectacle is sanctified,
caught, cleaned, and carved to nothing more than flash,
dislustred in a miracle of pride.
O Jesus, Jesus, Jesus—see the show,
a many-miniature of a guide to thee.
Note how devotion shadows in this light,
pools and reflects its measureability.
These tinsel days we move to disappear
bubble the seemingness of what we know,
as men revolt their sense of deity
and fire the manger with a Christmas glow.