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The Alberta Clipper

the laughing heart by Charles Bukowski

The autumn of 1993 was Lincoln’s second-coldest on record, after keeping track for 125 years. With an average temperature of 48.4 degrees Fahrenheit and nearly a foot of rain per month, the residents of Lincoln were missing summer quite a bit. Charles Bukowski was featured in Prairie Schooner that fall with some words of encouragement for the downtrodden, mere months prior to his death in March of 1994.

the laughing heart
Charles Bukowski

your life is your life.
don’t let it be clubbed into dank
submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the
darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you
changes.
know them, take them.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death
in life,
sometimes.
and the more often you
learn to do it,
the more light there will
be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have
it.
you are marvelous.
the gods wait to delight
in
you.

The Nightmare by Joyce Carol Oates

In the fall of 1971, on-campus newspaper the Daily Nebraskan featured a series of articles on homosexuality. Robert Prokop, future University of Nebraska Regent, submitted a guest column in which he discussed homosexuality as a disease. In his column, Prokop plagiarized Edmund Bergler’s 1957 book, Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life. Bergler contemplated what he saw as a “neurotic distortion of the total personality.” That same fall, Joyce Carol Oates’ “The Nightmare” was published in Prairie Schooner, a poem that deals with awareness, fear, and misunderstanding of a somewhat different sort than Prokop and Bergler were concerned with.

The Nightmare
Joyce Carol Oates

She wakes from the pillow
body hammering to the hovering
above her
like the withheld beating of wings

don’t move

it is a whisper
she can’t quite hear
she goes rigid with its certainty
a child’s clear fatal sense
of proportion
don’t move

a careless move will unhinge
the universe

a network of deadly wires
she lies rigid waiting
for the presence to withdraw
for the withdrawal of the vibrating
of dim words passing
the noise of terror passing
a curious beak in the dark air
of the dark empty bedroom
poking about her face
amorous of her opened eyes
her head
where no one is home

The Buckeye by Rita Dove

Lincoln’s weather during the spring of 1988 was mild. With scant snowfall and temperatures ranging from the mid-40s to upper 60s, it was an ideal time for planting. On April 1, the Lanoha Nursery was selected to provide and plant trees for the spring Master Street Tree Planting Program, which laid out a plan as to the location, quantity, and diversity of trees to be planted on Lincoln’s streets.

The 1988 spring issue of Prairie Schooner featured Rita Dove’s poem “The Buckeye.”

The Buckeye
Rita Dove

We learned about the state tree
in school – its fruit
so useless, so ugly

no one bothered to
commend the smudged trunk
nor the slim leaves shifting

over our heads. Yet
they were a good thing to kick
along gutters

on the way home,
though they stank like
a drunk's piss in the roads

where cars had smashed
them. And in autumn
when the spiny helmets split

open,
there was the bald
seed with its wheat-

colored eye.
We loved
the modest countenance beneath

that leathery cap.
We, too, did not want to leave
our mothers.

We piled them up
for ammunition.
We lay down

with them
among the bruised leaves
so that we could

rise, shining.

The Broken Jug by Octavio Paz

Summertime is often sweltering in Nebraska. July of 1962 was no different. With daily highs in the upper 90s, a poem that features flames, torches, candles, and fire was especially appropriate for the season. Octavio Paz’s “The Broken Jug” was published in the Summer 1962 edition of Prairie Schooner. Its mention of solitude, however, was increasingly contrary to conditions in Lincoln. Two years earlier, the 1960 census put the city’s population at just over 128,000: a whopping 30% increase from ten years prior! Perhaps the editors were trying to reclaim that sense of isolation?

The Broken Jug
Octavio Paz

Translated from the Spanish (Mexico) by Bruce Cutler

The inner eye opens and a world of vertigo
and flame is born beneath the forehead of the one who dreams:
blue suns, green whirlwinds, nibs of light that pick open stars
like pomegranates,
a solitary sunflower, golden eye gyring in the middle
of a burnt-lime esplanade.
crystal groves of sound, forests of echoes and replies
and waves, dialogue of transparencies,—
wind! gallop of water between the endless walls
of a throat of jet,
horse, comet, sky-rocket that drives itself exactly through
the heart of night, quills, water-jets,
feathers, sudden flowering of torches, candles, wings,
invasion of white,
birds of the islands singing beneath the forehead
of the one who dreams!

I opened my eyes; I raised them to the sky and saw how the night
was covering itself with stars.
Living islands! bracelets of islands aflame, rocks blazing,
breathing, grape-clusters of living rocks,
what a wellspring! what clarities, what tresses spread over a dark
shoulder,
what a river there above, and that far distant sound of water
next to fire, of light against shadow!
Harps, gardens of harps.

But there was no one next to me.
Only a plain: cactus, sponge-trees, huge stones that crack open
under the sun.
No cricket chirred;
there was a vague smell of lime and burnt seeds;
the village streets were dry arroyos
and the air would have shattered had someone
shouted, “Who’s alive?”

The Harp of Wales by Tennessee Williams

During December 1949 in Lincoln, Nebraska, the temperature dropped to a low of 1.9 degrees F and the wind picked up to a maximum speed of 26 MPH. There were daily reports of rain and melting snow.

That same season, Prairie Schooner published in its Winter 1949 issue Tennessee Williams’s poem “The Harp of Wales.” Williams was 38 at the time and had won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for A Streetcar Named Desire the year before. For all the poem’s peculiarities, the wonder and dignity instilled in the harp still impress:

The Harp of Wales
Tennessee Williams

They do not know through the blood of what witch-like women
the instrument passed unwillingly into their hands
but in it is mist ever clearing and women that keen
among scattered nets at the wet grey edge of the sands.

They cannot guess how the wild harp of Wales came to them,
this ancient of shells in the troubled cleft of their hands,
but schooling was not necessary to master its touch
and the moving of light spells through its transparent strands.

Early they learned of it, often before they were grown,
and forebodings, their own and older, could draw from its strings
the moan of those witch-like women who fashioned in Wales
a harp made for keening the deaths of the wild grey kings.

And remembering skills in which they were never instructed,
they know what the laws of the uncivil instrument are
and where the harp strings should be struck not at all or so lightly
the demon from anarchy turns to pay his devoir.

Immutable is the shell, but not the touch,
and possibly now it has an accustomed ring
and the wonder dispelled a degree, but still for a time
it is sorrow not only their own that compels them to sing.

And still for a time they will stay with a sorrow to sing,
with instinct of rules too deep in their blood to forget,
for the wild harp of Wales is enduring among them and cries,
Ο stay for a time, Thou Stranger, turn not away yet!

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