For Robert Billings by Herb Barrett

The Niagara Gorge, c1900.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress


whose body was recovered
from the Niagara Gorge

Some things leave us speechless
‡‡‡‡‡fear of the unknown
‡‡‡‡‡confronting death
‡‡‡‡‡falling in & out of love
‡‡‡‡‡trouble so acute
‡‡‡‡‡we feel strapped
‡‡‡‡‡in a strait jacket
‡‡‡‡‡with no road back
‡‡‡‡‡no forward
‡‡‡‡‡mute as a sacrifice
‡‡‡‡‡waiting to be rendered

‡‡‡‡‡was beauty created
‡‡‡‡‡poems spun
‡‡‡‡‡like tapestries
‡‡‡‡‡to enhance
‡‡‡‡‡the bleak corners
‡‡‡‡‡of existence

‡‡‡‡‡some dark corrosive
‡‡‡‡‡ate at the spirit
‡‡‡‡‡the eclectic rocket
‡‡‡‡‡somewhere misfired

‡‡‡‡‡who can judge
‡‡‡‡‡the why
‡‡‡‡‡the day
‡‡‡‡‡desolate as famine
‡‡‡‡‡that drove you
‡‡‡‡‡to the brink
‡‡‡‡‡lonely as a last moment
‡‡‡‡‡your body engulfed
‡‡‡‡‡by roaring mist…

‡‡‡‡‡the cruel rocks
‡‡‡‡‡keep their secret
‡‡‡‡‡where a cry ends
‡‡‡‡‡and silence begins

Source:  Canadian Author & Bookman, Vol. 63, no.3, Spring 1988

Robert Billings, a Niagara Falls, Ontario, native, became well known in Canadian literary circles as a poet, critic, teacher,  and editor of Poetry Canada Review and Poetry Toronto.  In 1983 he penned the poem “Epiphanies of the First Cold Day.”  Epiphany 2 reads in part:

This is my persistent nightmare:
I jump into a shallow river
My feet sink in mud to mid-calf, the top of my head just breaks the surface
It’s November
Too soon for the ice to preserve me.

In Waves, vol. 11, issue 2/3, winter 1983

In 1986 after his marriage broke down and bouts of depression hit him, he threw himself into the Niagara River. His body was not recovered until six months later.

Read “Epiphanies of the First Cold Day” here

Herb Barrett (c1912-1995) was a poet who first published in the Hamilton Spectator in the 1930s, helped found the Canadian Poetry Association, and was a long-time poetry magazine editor.  The Haiku Foundation named The Herb Barrett Award after him.

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