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Alberta Clipper: 7/7/15: “Intermediary” by Pattiann Rogers

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.

Sincerely,
Samantha Smith

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. 

Pattiann Rogers
Intermediary
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)


The Alberta Clipper is a biweekly gust of history—brushing the dust off of a poem from our archives and situating it in the current events and local Nebraskan weather reports of days gone by. Explore the Alberta Clipper archives here.

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