The Alberta Clipper
July 7, 1983, in Lincoln was a scorcher. Temperatures reached 91° Fahrenheit; the month would go on to reach a high of 106°. But while the weather was warm, the political atmosphere was frigid: The United States and the Soviet Union were locked in the middle of the Cold War. Tensions on both sides were incredibly high and the drastic seemed possible. Within this climate, ten-year-old Samantha Smith wrote a letter to the Soviet Union's newly appointed leader, Yuri Andropov, seeking to understand the conflict. Her letter read:
Dear Mr. Andropov,
My name is Samantha Smith. I am ten years old. Congratulations on your new job. I have been worrying about Russia and the United States getting into a nuclear war. Are you going to vote to have a war or not? If you aren't please tell me how you are going to help to not have a war. This question you do not have to answer, but I would like to know why you want to conquer the world or at least our country. God made the world for us to live together in peace and not to fight.
Samantha's letter was widely published in the Soviet Union, but when she had not received a response Samantha wrote to the Soviet Ambassador, asking whether or not Andropov would respond. On April 26, 1983, she received a letter from Andropov himself. The letter contained assurances that the Soviet Union was doing everything in its power to seek peace and concluded by inviting Samantha and her family to visit that summer. On July 7, 1983, Samantha Smith and her family travelled to the Soviet Union amidst the height of the Cold War. She became widely known by citizens of both countries as "America's Youngest Ambassador," and intermediary between West and East.
The Summer 1983 issue of Prairie Schooner saw the publication of "Intermediary" by Pattiann Rogers. The poem speaks of an intermediary of a different kind, but nonetheless speaks to the ever-present necessity and power-for-change of "intermediaries" throughout the world.
For John A. and Arthur
This is what I ask: that if they must be taken
They be taken like the threads of the cotton grass
Are taken by the summer wind, excited and dizzy
And safe, flying inside their own seeds;
And if they must be lost that they be lost
Like leaves of the water starwort
Are lost, submerged and rising over and over
In the slow-rooted current by the bank.
I ask that they always be found
With the same sure and easy touch
The early morning stillness uses to find itself
In needles of dew on each hyssop in the ditch.
And may they see everything the boatman bug,
Shining inside its bubbles of air, sees
Through silver skin in the pond-bottom mud,
And may they be obliged in the same way the orb snail,
Sucking on sedges in shallow water, is obliged.
And may they be promised everything in a single blade
Of sweet flag, kept by the grip of the elmid
On its stem, kept by the surrounding call
Of the cinnamon teal, kept by its line
In the marsh-filled sky, is promised.
Outloud, in public and in writing, I ask again
That solace come to them like sun comes
To the egg of the longspur, penetrating the shell,
Settling warmth inside the potential heart
And beginnings of bone. And I ask that they remember
Their grace in the same way the fetal bird remembers light
Inside the blackness of its gathering skull inside
The cave of its egg.
And with the same attention a streamer of ice
Moving with moon commands, with the same decision
The grassland plovers declare as they rise
From the hayfields into the evening sky,
I ask that these pleas of mine arrest the notice
Of all those angels already possessing a lasting passion
For find and dauntless boys like mine.
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 57, No. 2 (Summer 1983)
June 30th, 1936, marks the publication date of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. Although today its reception is mixed—some still love it, while others find its controversial aspects more than troubling—it remains historically important, and if nothing else, it shows us the headway we’ve made as a society. “Shifting Winds” by James C. Kilgore appeared in the summer issue of Prairie Schooner in 1969, with the weather in Nebraska not surprisingly heating up. June saw highs of 99 degrees Fahrenheit. James C. Kilgore (1928-1988), a poet and essayist, worked in the English Department at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, Ohio where he was extremely active in founding new and diverse writing associations in and around the Cleveland metro area. He published several works throughout his life, and was named Ohio Poet of the Year in 1982. Kilgore’s poem acts as a reminder that our efforts to achieve overall equality and equity across diversity—while significant since the release of Mitchell’s classic novel—are still in progress. —Mariah Reicks
James C. Kilgore
In the morning I wrote in black ink a dozen poems
about ghetto children deprived of food and shoes
and a concerned city that sent one notebook
to six school children;
I wrote of black mothers fighting the ice of apathy
that rings my city’s slums;
I wrote of black men trapped in the hot, spiraling fire
of ancient hate;
I wrote twelve tragic stanzas of hope dying
slowly on the dark streets of my city’s slums.
In the evening I turned on the news:
I saw fires blazing black through ghetto streets
and no fireman’s sirens sang;
I saw shoppers leaving stores,
they trotted under glaring sun,
looked back from the shelter of low-brimmed hats,
and trotted on.
I saw a lawman kill a bare-footed black child
clutching a loaf of bread
and a pair of ten-dollar shoes
on the cold-noon streets of Newark:
I saw a black mother lose her eyes on Cleveland’s East Side,
And I saw her baby die
when a guardsman saw black
his silver trigger.
In the nation’s capital,
there were snow flurries
and shifting winds.
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 43, No. 2 (Spring 1969)
Were you that kid who checked out the Guinness Book of World Records just to see all of the gross stuff people have done? I was definitely that kid! But though the middle-school appeal is less impressive than the most questionable activities, the Guinness Book of World Records also celebrates people’s great accomplishments. For example, Balamurali Ambati, an Indian-American student, graduated from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in Manhattan, New York on May 19, 1995, at age seventeen, to become the youngest doctor in history. Dr. Ambati is currently a Professor of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Adjunct Associate Professor of Neurobiology and Anatomy, and Director of Corneal Research at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
It was a bright, sunny day of 72 degrees in New York City when Dr. Ambati was graduating from medical school, and it was 75 in the sunlight when Prairie Schooner was publishing the Summer 1995 issue ((though only 39 in the early morning hours!). A poem by David Citino titled “The Land of Atrophy” looks at one man’s struggle with his doctor’s diagnosis of cerebral atrophy and concern for finding a way to the grave news with her mother without her blaming herself. Citino’s piece—where “atrophy” ought not be confused with “a trophy”—neatly stitches together the disparate arts of poetry and medicine.—Dani Kerr
The Land of Atrophy
I sit before this keyboard
debating whether to tell my mother
in my dutiful-child letter,
along with granddaughterly triumphs
and devilishly clever meals
I’ve devised for wife and kids—
news to make her beam (so I
can see her beaming as she reads)—
the sentence from the MRI report
the doctor intoned over the phone,
a bone-cold, unthinkable thing:
“There is evidence of cerebral atrophy.”
Twenty-five years an adult; still
I worry. She’d take it personally,
remembering a day she worked
too hard, at or drank some thing
her Louisiana landlady-witch said
would twist the baby’s mind,
a night she loved my father
hard enough to hurt my head.
I could be inventing reasons
more cogent for yes or no
in this debate were my brain
not ceding territory, the M.S.
causing atrophy, meaning what—
my college Greek so far gone—
a lack of food? It is a hunger,
this damn darkness, lesions
like weeds: I’d been promised
a field of light to last a life.
I decided to decide about Mother
next week. I try to find a poem,
conjuring that remote country
of passion and panic I think I own.
Stars come out to stay.
A thing learned never leaves.
A mother is a young woman always,
starlight in her hair styled
from films that never fade,
seams straight on new hose
as she steps into clouds of steam
from a train just arrived
in New Orleans from Cleveland,
the handsome second lieutenant
surprising her from the side
with a breathless embrace,
a fist of perfect fleshy roses.
Wartime, but no one screams.
Such fervent caring, pairings.
There is no distance between
the alluring fictions our memories
can be and brutal truths,
between a poem of starry trains
and a letter of uninjuring love,
bone and the heart’s flesh,
a mind and all it can feel.
Prairie Schooner Vol. 69, No. 2 (Summer 1995)
April 21, 1977, was the opening night of Annie on Broadway. For the uninitiated, the musical centers on an irrepressible young orphan girl growing up in post-Great Depression era New York, as she searches for her parents with the help of a billionaire benefactor. Lincoln’s overcast skies and mid-50 degree F weather that day were grim indeed, but little Orphan Annie reminded the world through song that the sun would come out tomorrow. In spite of all obstacles, Annie maintains her youthful optimism, as well as an unshakeable faith in humanity.
Twenty years later, in the Spring 1997 issue of Prairie Schooner, David Ignatow’s “For Johannes Edfelt” was published. In the issue, which focuses on the voices of Jewish-American writers, Ignatow presents an adult who has lost touch with his faith in religion. The speaker notes the “contentment” he found in his religious childhood, and alludes to the doubt with which it has been replaced. The final stanza’s song that held his childhood might well have been Annie’s. —Mina Holmes
For Johannes Edfelt
I once had a religion to turn to
I listen to a singer singing
the prayer I once sang.
What I have now is myself,
looking at the trees and grass
that live out their lives
never in doubt
My childhood is in that song.
In contentment with my childhood,
I look skyward in curiosity.
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 71, No. 1. Jewish-American Writers (Spring 1977)
In the spring of 1959, the Dalai Lama fled the Tibetan capital of Lhasa, beginning a trying journey over the treacherous terrain of the Himalayas in search of safety. On March 31st, he crossed the border into India, where he was welcomed with refuge and asylum. Meanwhile, on that same day in 1959, Lincoln, NE, was hit with strong thunderstorms and high winds topping out at 20 mph while the editors at Prairie Schooner worked tirelessly on the Spring Issue, which included work by one of Nebraska’s own, Dan Jaffe. Jaffe has been a notable poet in the literary world for more than thirty years, but Jaffe made this Prairie Schooner appearance fifty-six years ago while working as a professor in the UNL English Department, with a poem titled “The Sweetest Journeys Home Are in the Mind.” This sentiment rings especially true in the case of the Dalai Lama, who ventured for fifteen days before finally arriving safely in India—not, perhaps, his home, but at least, a place to rest. — Mariah Reicks
The Sweetest Journeys Home Are in the Mind
The sweetest journeys home are in the mind,
Travels full and restful as they wind
Flowing to the moment of return
By banks that seem more green around each turn.
Those upstream days all curve in a long grin
That widens with each story to begin,
And rough-edged rocks embedded once in grit
Have become polished stone conglomerate.
Still, I remember wishing it be soon,
The impatience of a Sunday afternoon,
The station thick with travelers, soot, and flies,
I fled my fussing family’s goodbyes.
But now, in another city, days still drone,
A stir of bees around an empty comb.
So once again I settle in a train,
Reflections mingling in the windowpane.
Hello’s, goodbye’s, are only rituals.
They mist the shrinking summer into fall.
Sweep past the moist green fields, the structured stone,
Measure the miles that wither quickly home.
After the tears, the kisses, the shaking hands,
The recitations of unfamiliar plans.
All the forgotten hurts and dreams played back,
Upstairs in my room, finally I unpack.
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Spring 1959)
On March 17, 1988—a fairly warm day for Lincoln, NE reaching a high of 43 degrees—Carolyn Kreiter-Kurylo published her first poem in the Prairie Schooner Spring issue titled “Dream: Catching the Air.” In a poem of memories revived while dreaming, Kreiter-Kurylo fondly recalls how “Always before bed, / you read Light In August/ or Les Miserables.”
It was on this same day over in Europe that the world-renowned Les Miserables premiered its first full West End/ Broadway production at the Det Norske Teatret in Oslo, Norway. A production based on the novel written by French poet and novelist Victor Hugo, the play focuses on several characters’ lives, including Jean Valijean, a man working for redemption.
What a stirring, haunting bed-time story!—Alexandria Douglas
Dream: Catching the Air
I watch them lower you.
Each time in the night’s
thin hour, you tremble.
Your face, its gaze
once cold under lamplight,
struggles out of a seizure.
You raise your mouth
and breathe back.
Staying long in my dream,
you breathe air
into the mouth laboring
Out of a tremor,
you move, catching
air on your tongue
as if you might fill
This morning I place iris
on the bedstand, watch
them turn velvet
as first light floods
your room. Our summers
were life this: opening
windows to mountains,
honeysuckle reaching us
through mist. Afternoons
we wrote on the porch
swing. Always before bed,
you read Light in August
or Les Miserables.
“What one man wont do
to another,” you said resting
your head on the bedpost,
your voice steady.
Now each time you speak
To me in a dream, I wake,
my heart opening, and write
down your words.
For years I go on recoding.
This evening shadows
around me flicker, the house
dark. A candle illumines
your picture as a young
girl lying in a bed
of clover. Were you
your mother alive
in sleep? I lean
my head against a chair’s
back and doze off.
In a dream you rise
from the clover. Running
toward you, I extend
my arms, taking you in.
Again a seizure pulls
you down. You struggle
for air while moonlight
pours across the floor.
I wake wondering,
How long can we keep
the dead alive this way?
Until the skies darken,
The stars seem to say.
All these years you have
done it so well.
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 62, No. 1 (Spring 1988)
The winter of 1998 is said to have been one of the worst winters in Nebraska. For example, on this day that year—as Prairie Schooner launched our Spring Issue—it was a balmy 29 degrees in the Nebraskan capitol, and it was snowing. It goes without saying that residents in Lincoln were wistfully thinking about heading south during those cold times. Somewhere nice and warm. A state like Florida. In fact, Florida became a state on this day in 1845. Though some at the time believed that Florida should be split into two different states, West Florida and East Florida, the territory was admitted to the United States as a single state. Congress and President Tyler agreed to welcome Florida and its wonderful weather as the twenty-seventh state of the Union on March 3, 1845.
Nicole Cuddeback’s poem dedicated to the “Sunshine” state was published in Prairie Schooner Spring 1998. Her poem titled Florida creates a collage of images that perfectly express the warmth and all-around daydream worthiness of Florida, the twenty-seventh state. —Dani Kerr
Melaleuca, Brazilian pepper, cabbage palm, Australian pine.
Rock oyster, bleeding tooth, banded tulip, pelican foot, coquina,
lightening whelk. Teeth of tiger and lemon shark, black in the loss
of fifteen million years. Home. Dawn-lit tendrils curling through
the iron mesh of a just-placed garden chair. Stand and sink
in the moist, haired ferns, mud. And there are hills – that don’t quite fit
like cypress knees heartened out like burial mounds, lumps in throats,
brief gashings of azalea through the low dips of wadded magnolias,
the crack in a word thought calm. Water, wind – but inland among
the little Etrurias, Rosewoods, cracked parking lots: something
swells the flat. Dirt’s response to tears? Hot weeds bent above overturned
bowls, giant ghoul bellies of brim. Who accounts for the spilled, swallowed,
for me evolved to this? One finger hung in the warm water, stuck
with knife groves of buzzing and palmetto, molten noons, the swim
on the distant pavement, evenings of lizard’s neon throats cast full,
gone in a wave, and always the heat, even in the foam that won’t
come in, on waves grimy jade ten orange as signs on closed roads,
finally black around the one crease drained by the moon – mounds both steadfast
and shifting: not mine, mine, the shame finger cooling, going out, always pointing off
where the wilderness of the ocean meets the smaller void of the gulf.
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 72, No. 1 (Spring 1998)
It is easy to get lost in the Midwest mentality – the humility and neighborliness, the passion for a state or sports team, the sense of family and community – and forget that the rest of the country is out there with their own styles and attitudes. In his 1953 poem “A Visit to New England,” Jon Swan emphasizes the pride that follows travelers as they venture away from home and encounter those with predispositions towards their region. February of 1953 in Lincoln was warmer than usual, with an average temperature of 40.5˚ F, while New England suffered the same fate with temperatures in the 30s and 40s. At least New Englanders and Midwesterners have the weather to commiserate about. --Daley Eldorado
A Visit to New England
When I said I came from Nebraska
She looked at her vague shoes, down her invisible hose,
And smoke rolled from her nose.
She hardly paused but mentioned
(First her open lips on fire,
Then shut tight and pleasant as a wire)
That they sent their old clothes out there.
Oh, yes, Nebraska.
Then for a moment the old buffalo in me arose
Ready, as she crushed her cigarette,
To rush the insubstantial smile
That perished from the cold across her face,
Until I noticed while
She spoke, that she with all her high New England ways
Had brittle hands, a frost is stronger,
Hardly a wrist, and when she pushed to stand
Crumbled upward into shape, and then I knew:
Her clothes must have been rejected; returned too,
For she, without the rolling smoke of her nose,
Without the deception of her hose
Was nearly...but a lamp’s no sun
And there’s no swimming in her living room.
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Winter 1953)
On February 3rd, 1947, the first truck rolled off of the new Highland Park Ford assembly line in Highland Park, Michigan. At the time, the Highland Park Plant was the only Ford plant to be specifically producing trucks. The truck, Ford’s F-Series, remains North America’s best selling pickup truck to date.
In the winter of 1973, David Allan Evans’ poem “Ford Pickup” was published in Prairie Schooner. On that cool February day the temperature was 48 degrees Fahrenheit, a bit warmer than the monthly average of 40 degrees.--Evan Berry
David Allan Evans
call me the Valiant heading west on Fourteen into the frozen
Dakota January sun and the one suddenly ahead the red
Custom Ranger with Texas plates and his woman taking
their time and all of my eye as he sits straight and high
beneath a white Stetson nodding politely over frost heave
and she has my long my black my favorite hair with a ribbon
exactly the color of the pickup and feeling the cab’s air
and now she scoots his way and lays her head on this shoulder
while he adjusts his hat and sways briefly over the yellow line
so then as they talk her hands are a bird’s nest in her lap
to which the knuckles of his loose right hand are always returning
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 47, Issue 4 (Winter 1973)
The winters of 1973 and 1974 in Lincoln, NE, were interesting times for the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Cornhuskers. Tom Osborne, a familiar name amongst Husker enthusiasts, spent his first year as head coach of the Cornhuskers in 1973. In the following season, Tom Osborne coached the Huskers all the way to the Cotton Bowl, where they played a long-standing rival, Texas, concluding the game with a victory.
The end of December in 1973 also experienced one of the coldest recorded minimum temperatures ever seen in Lincoln, NE, reaching a low of -20° Fahrenheit. In the winter of 1974, snow came particularly late with the earliest recorded precipitation date falling in the middle of December. In Prairie Schooner’s Winter 1973/74 issue, Greg Kuzma’s poem “As the Snowplows Tear the Streets” was published. Greg Kuzma attended Syracuse University and is professor emeritus of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Greg Kuzma currently resides in Crete, Nebraska. -Clarissa Siegel-Causey
As the Snowplows Tear the Streets
It is in me to dream of snow falling
into the eyes of the animals, the place is
far back in the branches of the tress
where even the trees do not dream, where
months of afternoons have rung to wood,
and the trunks are deep. Here the snow
is falling without alarms, the sun shines
out of the ground, the animals walk on
the proffered roots of plants, and the
rain and the ghost of the rain
make the same bright sign in the fruit.
Prairie Schooner, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Winter 1973)