The Alberta Clipper
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.
Thanksgiving of 2007 fell on the 22nd of November. In Lincoln, trace amounts of snow fell on that day; the high was 28°F and the low 12°F. Nebraska turkey growers raise about 4 million turkeys each year and in 2007 alone, those turkeys produced 65 million pounds of turkey meat. The Nebraska Huskers lost to the Colorado Buffaloes on their annual day-after-Thanksgiving rivalry game, and Wendy Mnookin’s “Thanksgiving” was published in the fall issue of Prairie Schooner. - Tory Clower
One glass of wine is good for you,
Mother says. And three are too many.
No one needs to leave the table crying.
Salt takes out the stain.
Or is it sugar?
The cat meows,
Come in. Go out. Outside
The boundaries are clear.
I listen hard to the hiss
of the sun’s longing,
red leaves etched
by that other brilliance, sky.
In the most recent issue of Harper’s Magazine, a story by Joyce Carol Oates has caused much kerfuffle in the literary world. The story, titled “Lovely, Dark, Deep,” tears into the venerable Robert Frost and has drawn flak from many readers upset at the lambasting. In the views of one commenter on washingtonpost.com, “[the recent ‘fiction with real people’ genre] … is just trying to cash in on the association with the real people who are shanghaied into the writer's pirate ship and made to do an embarrassing little jig without a means to ransom himself.” Whatever the opinion, it’s inarguable that Oates is a prolific writer, with 24 pieces published by the Prairie Schooner alone. “Detroit by Daylight” was featured in the summer of 1968, which, with an average temperature of 76.1°, placed in the top half of Lincoln’s warmest summers.
by Tory Clower
Joyce Carol Oates
Detroit by Daylight
Brook and meadow long glazed over, a city of daylight
Pressed hard upon an ancient glacier has become
A kind of elegant mold: Look where there is room,
After centuries, for the bloom of leaf and kite
Spangled against a dusty spring dully bright—
I do not hate our Vapor turned Kingdom
I say no words against what is the sum
Of forty centuries of cold starclear night.
It is no alarm to see hordes of children in the street.
Houses are stuffed away and anyway it seems noon;
But why these shouts, why thunder of fists and feet
Of shifting tumbling sand? Why the savage fleet
Flash of knife? Why this noontime jazzed to murderous heat?
In the spring of 2001, Australian poet John Kinsella was published in the Prairie Schooner. His poem “Sublimated through our thought” mentions both “blokes working the Hundred Acres” and “…the Concorde / break[ing] the sound barrier.” In a strange coincidence, these two things are related outside of Kinsella’s poem.
On October 14th, 1926, Winnie-the-Pooh was first published. Created by A. A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh and his many friends are denizens of the Hundred Acre Woods, where they live with Christopher Robin, who was based on Milne’s son. On October 14th, 1947—twenty-one years, to the day, after the publication of Winnie—American pilot Chuck Yeager became the first human to break the sound barrier. October 14th also was the date of the Battle of Hastings, fought in 1066, between the Normans and the British; depicted on the famous Bayeux Tapestry, this was the last time Britain was successfully invaded.
As for Lincoln, Nebraska, October 14th has been as toasty as 91°F (in 1897) and as chilly as 24°F (in 2006); its record one-day precipitation took place in 1888, with 0.86 inches of rain.
by Tory Clower
Sublimated through our thought
You reconstruct your past
through ads in weekend liftouts
or the odd Australian novel
that finds its way onto an English shelf,
assuming the subject matter “Australian,”
which is a safe assumption to make.
A warm day, a sharp frost,
a stretch of empty moorland in the North,
might prompt your “memory.”
As farm machinery invests and dissects
the peaty soil of the fens
the reddish clay of the past
turns to dust or puddles like vats
of blood during flood. You pick up
on hearsay in a local pub,
or an aboriginal myth reconstructed
by an educational publisher,
“sublimated through our thought.”
What remains the same
no matter the place, is the gutted sheep,
the dogs among the entrails.
Though the heat intensifies
A cousin rides her horse
out to the blokes working
the Hundred Acres, their tucker
cool in her saddle bags.
Space is expansive and concentrates
her gender. Aborigines stook in families
and one of the white blokes
jokes about wine flagons turning to water,
he thinks his laughter pristine and expansive,
brilliant enough for any locality.
In the fens dialect is lampooned
and a bunch of lads sing karaoke,
forgetting their prejudices.
Somewhere, the Concorde
breaks the sound barrier
and modernity instills itself
as memory, an afterthought.
With Lincoln’s second-hottest November on record and only 11.9 inches of snow (the fifth-smallest total snowfall Lincoln has received since 1899), the winter of 1999 ended up as Lincoln’s fifth-warmest winter, with an average temperature of 31.9°F. During this winter, Denise Duhamel’s piece “Ego” was published in the Prairie Schooner; Duhamel has since contributed many pieces to the Schooner and was recently the guest editor for The Best American Poetry 2013.
by Tory Clower
I just didn’t get it –
even with the teacher holding an orange (the earth) in one hand
and a lemon (the moon) in the other,
her favorite student (the sun) standing behind her with a flashlight.
I just couldn’t grasp it –
this whole citrus universe, these bumpy planets revolving so slowly
no one could even see themselves moving.
I used to think if I could only concentrate hard enough
I could be the one person to feel what no one else could,
sense a small tug from the ground, a sky shift, the earth changing gears.
Even though I was only one mini-speck on a speck,
even though I was merely a pinprick in one goosebump on the orange,
I was sure then I was the most specially perceptive, perceptively sensitive.
I was sure then my mother was the only mother to snap –
“The world doesn’t revolve around you!”
The earth was fragile and mostly water
just the way the orange was mostly water if you peeled it
just the way I was mostly water if you peeled me.
Looking back on that third grade science demonstration,
I can understand why some people gave up on fame or religion or cures –
especially people who have an understanding
of the excruciating crawl of the world,
who have a well-developed sense of spatial reasoning
and the tininess that it is to be one of us.
But not me – even now I wouldn’t mind being god, the force
who spins the planets the way I spin a globe, a basketball, a yoyo.
I wouldn’t mind being that teacher who chooses the fruit,
or that favorite kid who gives the moon its glow.
On the morning of September 11th, 2001, shocked Nebraskans convened in Lincoln’s Centennial Mall to grieve together. Over the next several months, vigils and remembrance gatherings were held in the green space spanning the seven blocks between the University of Nebraska’s downtown campus and the Nebraska State Capitol. The Mall, constructed in 1967 to commemorate the state’s centennial, is currently undergoing a revitalization of aesthetics and functionality. September of 2001 in Lincoln was somewhat rainy (two daily record rainfalls) and somewhat warm (a monthly high of 96°), but nothing compared to the catastrophe which had just rocked America. “Metro North at Spuyten Duyvil, 7: 30 a.m. 9/11/01” was published in the Spring 2004 issue of the Prairie Schooner.
by Tory Clower
Metro North at Spuyten Duyvil, 7:30 a.m. 9/11/01
The crash the train makes crossing the bridge
wakes many of them this young morning.
Light reflects off the swells below
and dapples the air of the coach they ride in.
An analyst in her fierce suit drums
her blunt, red nails against the mottled glass.
Opposite, a young trader sleeps on
mouth agape, argyle feet in the aisle.
A foursome, each gray as Nester,
plays hearts with their jackets off.
August 26th is the first day of school at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln this year. Campus is gradually filling up with professors returning to their classrooms and students returning to their studies: some probably happier about this than others. Rachel Hadas’ “Back to School” epitomizes the combined feelings of dread and rebirth that accompany the start of many school years. Published in the summer of 1984, Hadas’ poem mentions the “last gist of summer,” which, with an average temperature of 76.3°F, places in the top third of Lincoln’s warmest summers; her sky’s “soaking wrap” nods to the combined precipitation of 10.12 inches from June to September.
by Tory Clower
Back to School
Season of mists…
The slimy windows on the bus to Princeton
uncolor everything. Container and contained,
I press my nose against the pane,
returning to the university
and feeling like a larva. Morning mists
sleekly encapsulate us drowsy passengers.
September as the sloughing off of ends.
We pass the Flower Shed
looming out of rime. Its legend boasts
Floral Gifts for All Occasions,
Weddings, Christenings, Confirmations, Funerals –
anthology of initiation rites,
floridly embellished passages
from one state to another. Here we are.
The sky begins to shrug its soaking wrap
off shoulders glowing still with some last gist
of summer. Now to each of us emerging
from the husk (bus, I mean), a tall bouquet
is handed out of air – out of thick air.
The stems leak lymph that glazes our arrival.