The Alberta Clipper
June of 2008 netted 8.59 inches of precipitation, garnering it the title of Lincoln’s ninth-wettest June; October of that year also held sway in the top 10 of Nebraska’s wettest Octobers. The summer between saw 266,644 people visiting Lincoln’s 10 public pools; a rose garden renovation in Antelope Park; and the CDC declaring Lincoln the healthiest city in America. Maxine Kumin’s “Symposium” was published in the Prairie Schooner that summer as well; she had earlier held the position of Poet Laureate of the United States from 1981 to 1982.
by Tory Clower
Last call for the symposium at 4 p.m.
to examine the works of W. H. Auden
whom I remember always in carpet slippers.
X from Hum. 101 will discuss the early poems,
Y from Eng. 323 will discuss the later poems
in the symposium that opens at 4 p.m.
Spender famously said, Poor Auden; soon
we’ll have to take off his face and iron it to see who he is.
Perhaps he had bunions, thus the carpet slippers.
Lord Byron, Faustus, Yeats, September 1
1939, these poems should head the list
of works discussed in the symposium at 4 p.m.
which will reaffirm the poet’s place in the pantheon:
wittier than Eliot, more readable than Pound,
both too erudite to read in carpet slippers
but knowing how all the instruments can disagree
and cleverest hopes expire, let us revere
his pleated face in the symposium at 4 p.m.
while I revisit him on stage in carpet slippers.
Between the years of 1887 and 2009, the autumn of 1963 was Lincoln’s hottest with an average seasonal temperature of 60°F. October of that year also ranked #1 for Lincoln’s hottest, with an average temperature of 65.5°F for the month; denizens of Lincoln were able to enjoy the warm weather at the newly opened Pioneers Park nature preserve and wildlife sanctuary. Daniel Hoffman, who went on to be the US Poet Laureate from 1973-1974, was published in the Prairie Schooner that fall with his poem “Words for Dr. Williams.”
by Tory Clower
Words for Dr. Williams
by Daniel Hoffman
Wouldst thou grace this land with song?
Well, go yodel your head off
But if it’s poems you want then take a town
With mills and chimneys, oil
Slithering down the river toward the falls,
Grit in the air, a man
Just off the night shift turning, tired yet strong
To watch the girl who hurries
Toward a timeclock step down from the bus--
Slim ankles, one,
Two, and click click click swings past. The sun
Glints on her raincoat. There’s
Your muse and hero. Stick around this town
Where people speak American
And love is possible—You, passionate
Among the factories,
Stethoscope held to our arteries
In sickness and in health
Showed us some places where our own poems grow.
Lincoln’s spring weather in 1957 included heavy snowfalls (8.4 inches on March 24th) lasting well into the spring. In fact, April 11th was the date of the last snow that year, which put 1957 in the latest quarter of springs from 1948-2010. As if the snow wasn’t enough, a tornado tore along the northwest edge of Lincoln on May 20th, captured in photographs here. A poem featuring a very different season appeared in the Prairie Schooner that spring, penned by future Poet Laureate Josephine Jacobsen, who would go on to hold the post from 1971 to 1973.
by Tory Clower
Down the wet-leaves steps comes the tiger-head
slowly. Five feminine years timid and proud
move the striped stuff toward joy; the limp tail slips behind.
Follows the smaller skull-capped cautious shape,
fraternal, one-footing after the tufted tail-slip.
The terrace swarms with lavorious monsters of the maternal mind.
Leaves. Years. Years. Leaves…the play will turn more gruff.
There will be treats; and certainly tricks enough.
In some weather she will meet her tiger, his skull will come true.
But they acknowledge that future now and step down, near,
into, the toothy jack-o’-lantern light with fear
and courage. Though watched by witches they shall have their due.
The twentieth poet laureate of the United States, William Stafford, held that position from 1970 to 1971. Twenty years earlier, his poem “Immolation” had been published in the Winter 1950 edition of Prairie Schooner. The first snowfall in Lincoln that year occurred on November 8th and culminated in a total of 19.9 inches of snow for the season; the average winter temperature was a moderately balmy 25.8°F.
by Tory Clower
The murder was accomplished
Quietly the morning-glory eyes
Weakly, with suffocation,
the bird-answering voice gave up the ghost.
Two curls by warm temples
were witnesses of the slow strangulation.
Innumerable drinkers of tea nodded with
Enthusiasm at the impeccable
assassination of the years.
The dismayed daughter—
for a conservative graduate school
Lincoln in the fall of 1987 was quite the hopping place! A slightly cooler-than-average autumn played host to several notable events. Willie Nelson’s Farm Aid concert series, then in its third year, came to UNL’s Memorial Stadium in September, helping to raise awareness (and funds) for the plight of the family farmer; in keeping with the theme of civic duty, the Lincoln Recycling Office was also founded that fall. An unseasonably early first snowfall on October 10th (Lincoln’s fourth-earliest snow) didn’t quench the “smoke,…burning,…and the ash” of Howard Nemerov’s “The Revised Version,” published that autumn in the Prairie Schooner. Nemerov had been the US Poet Laureate from 1963 to 1964 and would soon regain the position from 1988 to 1990.
by Tory Clower
The Revised Version
by Howard Nemerov
The common curse forbidden to the young
When we were young – our grownups got it wrong,
Maybe from reading in a bad translation;
It wasn’t so much a curse as an invitation
To the great world’s permanent floating cocktail bash –
The scent, the smoke, the burning, and the ash.
A grownup in my turn I say the spell:
It isn’t Go to Hell, it’s Come to Hell.
Randall Jarrell was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress—the position now known as United States Poet Laureate—from 1956 to 1958. A poem written during this period, “Sleeping at the Shamrock Hilton,” was published posthumously in Prairie Schooner many years later, in the fall of 1973. The fall of ’73 was very typical in Lincoln, with an average temperature of 52.8°F and total precipitation of 14.2 inches.
by Tory Clower
Sleeping at the Shamrock Hilton
All night, tending a roar,
The patrons feed a leg into an eye,
An eye into a—
An eyeleg, half a legeye, inches achingly
Into the light of night and, on the hour,
Is severed by a blade of the machine.
Men, bending from a belt, reach out to it
And measure it and leave it on the floor:
This cornerstone the building has rejected
When, compared to a standard cornerstone and found defective,
It was found, compared to a standard cornerstone, defective
Compared to a—O air-conditioning machine
Of the fifth floor of the Shamrock Hilton,
Be quiet and let me wake!
Something rather noteworthy happened in the summer of 1968: in Lincoln that August, the Canadian swimmer Ralph Hutton set the world record for the Men’s 400 meters freestyle swimming event. In addition, the novelist and poet Raymond Carver had a piece published in the Prairie Schooner. These events took place during a moderately warm yet rainy summer; September of that year still ranks among Lincoln’s top-ten wettest Septembers.
by Tory Clower
The World Book Salesman
He holds conversation sacred
though a dying art. Smiling,
by turns, he is part toady,
part Oberführer. Knowing when
is the secret.
Out of the slim briefcase come
maps of all the world;
photographs, art work—
it is all there, all there
for the asking
as the doors swing open, crack,
In the empty
rooms each evening, he eats
alone, watches television, reads
the newspaper with a lust
that begins and ends in the fingertips.
There is no God,
and conversation is a dying art.
The Summer 2009 issue of Prairie Schooner included a poem by Jehanne Dubrow entitled “Sea-Change.” Dubrow’s poem was also featured by Poetry Daily on the Fourth of July that summer. On Independence Day in Lincoln, the city’s annual “Uncle Sam Jam” celebration was moved, for the first time, to a date other than the actual holiday. This was due to Nebraska’s own “Larry the Cable Guy” performing a Lincoln show on the Fourth. The rest of the summer was also a tad out of the ordinary; throughout the entire season, Nebraska’s temperature was cooler than average by about 2 to 3 degrees Celsius, with a total of three record lows set in Lincoln.
by Tory Clower
Imagine this: saltwater scrubbing sand
into my husband’s skin,
his fingers pale anemones,
his hands turned coral reef, and in
his eyes the nacreous pearls of Ariel.
This could be my husband, drowning in the swell.
A sea-change means a shift, a change of heart,
and how the oceans turn
glass shards into a jewel,
rip apart familiar things. Waves churn.
The surf is a liquid body that peels a carrier from bow to stern, the keel
bent back, steel bands pliable as kelp.
And long before I wake,
the sailors drown. No point in calling help.
Each night, my husband shakes
me out of sleep. I cannot reach for him
or drag him to the surface so he’ll swim.
Despite September of 2009 being the globe’s second-hottest September on record (and the records date back to 1880), Nebraska’s autumnal weather was quite unseasonably cool. Indeed, the first two weeks in October were Lincoln’s coldest in 122 years. A temperature of 29F on October 4th set a record low for the date. Several years later, David Wojahn’s poem “Mix Tape to Be Brought to Her in Rehab” was selected for The Best American Poetry 2011; it had first appeared in Prairie Schooner during that frigid fall of 2009.
by Tory Clower
Mix Tape to Be Brought to Her in Rehab
Black lacquered circle & the sound coaxed
from diamond to rest within the acetate glimmer,
the agon & the joys commingling. Nina Simone
is conjuring The Boat of Ra Little Darling
from a long cold lonely winter, though outside
it is August & is not all right. Double doors,
then again double doors. You will sign in:
& they’ll rifle your pack of oranges & candy bars,
pry open the plastic case & hold the gray
Maxell against the light. Immense are the tears
of Levi Stubbs. How sweet how sweet the honeybee.
The Smiths are in a terrible place. O Oscillate
Wildly Please Please Please Let Me Get What I want,
to be followed in turn by Mr. James Brown,
his own please trembling the Apollo rafters.
Visiting hours—in the TV room the Haldol reigns.
The President struts among the SS gravestones,
pompadour shiny as a new LP, his movie-actor gait
turned thank God to pastel vapor by Miami Vice.
Flamingos starburst from the credits. Shyly
she will walk the corridor to meet you, your offerings
of Earl Grey, the two black turtlenecks.
Nail cobalt—fingers a-tremble. Gun Shy, Screaming
Blue Messiahs, Dylan at his nadir adnoiding
Brownsville Girl—down here even the swap meets
are getting a little corr-upt. Richard Thompson
When the Spell Is Broken, Jimmy Cliff’s
in limbo waiting for the dice to roll.
When her roommate leaves, you’ll sit with her upon the bed.
Awkward, you will small talk, staring
at your hands. More doors, double doors & triple,
the years the years. Down the carved names
the future with its labyrinths & tailspins, rooms
giving way to rooms, the upturned card, the notebooks
cuneiformed with numbers, pivot & gyre, cache
of Rx pads stuffed into a rolltop drawer. 90 rabid
troubled minutes, coda Robert Johnson. Stones on my
passway & my road seem dark as night. Her eyes in memory
an astonished blue. You reach inside your jacket
& she holds it in her upturned palm. From the bedside
table she lifts the Walkman—the button with its triangle,
the click, the whirr, the eddying forward.
The first half of 2009 was the third driest on record for Lincoln, which contributed to a warmer than average spring. This dryness and heat also led to a reduced number of tornadoes in Nebraska—fifty percent fewer than the year before. The spring issue of Prairie Schooner featured “Seven Days of Falling,” by Adrian Matejka, a poem that was later included in The Best American Poetry 2010.
by Tory Clower
Seven Days of Falling
Today, I’m assimilating like margarine
into hotcakes. I’m getting down
like Danny LaRusso after the against-
the-rules leg sweep. So low,
I’ll be a flower in common decency’s
lapel. Factual, the same way “Zanzibar”
means sea of blacks to anyone who isn’t
from there. Where is Juan Valdez,
his burroesque dependability when
you need him? I had a friend who minted
t-shirts with Juan front and center,
an afro instead of a sombrero, a power
fist instead of a smile. The inscription:
100% Colombian. I’m going the way
of skin—radio waves, thoughts
like ear-to-ear transmissions grounded
into the ozone on the way from mindless
space to forgetful Earth. Man, my skin
doesn’t need me any more than mold
needs cheese. On this day of cellophane
lunchboxes and hand grenades reshaping
my palms into their own militaristic orbit,
there are only oceans to catch me.
On this day, something needs
to catalogue me: a hall monitor
doubled wide by ambition,
a goldfish with thumbs hitchhiking
toward a fishbowl full of dub.