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