A Monody Made on the Late Mr. Samuel Patch, By an Admirer of the Bathos by Robert Charles Sands

By water shall he die, and take his end. — Shakespeare.

patch
Sam Patch’s Leap. From Peter Porter: Official guide, Niagara Falls, River, Frontier: scenic, botanic, electric, historic, geologic, hydraulic. 1901

Toll for Sam Patch!   Sam Patch, who jumps no more,
‡‡This or the world to come.   Sam Patch is dead!
The vulgar pathway to the unknown shore
‡‡Of dark futurity, he would not tread.
‡‡No friends stood sorrowing round his dying bed;
Nor with decorous wo, sedately stepp’d
‡‡Behind his corpse, and tears by retail shed;—
The mighty river, as it onward swept,
In one great wholesale sob, his body drowned and kept.

Toll for Sam Patch!   he scorned the common way
‡‡That leads to fame, up heights of rough ascent,
And having heard Pope and Longinus say,
‡‡That some great men had risen to falls, he went
‡‡And jumped, where wild Passaic’s waves had rent
The antique rocks; — the air free passage gave,—
‡‡And graciously the liquid element
Upbore him, like some sea-god on its wave;
And all the people said that Sam was very brave.

Fame, the clear spirit that doth to heaven upraise
‡‡Led Sam to dive into what Byron calls
The hell of waters.   For the sake of praise,
‡‡He wooed the bathos down great water-falls;
‡‡The dizzy precipice, which the eye appals
Of travellers for pleasure, Samuel found
‡‡Pleasant, as are to women lighted halls,
Crammed full of fools and fiddles; to the sound
Of the eternal roar, he timed his desperate bound.

Sam was a fool.   But the large world of such,
‡‡Has thousands — better taught, alike absurd,
And less sublime.   Of fame he soon got much,
‡‡Where distant cataracts spout, of him men heard,
‡‡Alas for Sam!   Had he aright preferred
The kindly element, to which he gave
‡‡Himself so fearlessly, we had not heard
That it was now his winding-sheet and grave,
Nor sung, ‘twixt tears and smiles, our requiem for the brave.

He soon got drunk, with rum and with renown,
‡‡As many others in high places do;—
Whose fall is like Sam’s last — for down and down
‡‡By one mad impulse driven, they flounder through
‡‡The gulf that keeps the future from our view,
And then are found not.   May they rest in peace!
‡‡We heave the sigh to human frailty due—
And shall not Sam have his?   The muse shall cease
To keep the heroic roll, which she began in Greece—

patch
Robert C. Sands

With demigods, who went to the Black Sea
‡‡For wool (and if the best accounts be straight,
Came back, in negro phraseology,
‡‡With the same wool each upon his pate),
‡‡In which she chronicled the deathless fate
Of him who jumped into the perilous ditch
‡‡Left by Rome’s street commissioners, in a state
Which made it dangerous, and by jumping which
He made himself renowned, and the contractors rich—

I say, the muse shall quite forget to sound
‡‡The chord whose music is undying, if
She do not strike it when Sam Patch is drowned.
‡‡Leander dived for love.   Leucadia’s cliff
‡‡The Lesbian Sappho leapt from in a miff,
To punish Phaon; Icarus went dead,
‡‡Because the wax did not continue stiff;
And, had he minded what his father said,
He had not given a name unto his watery bed.

And Helle’s case was all an accident,
‡‡As everybody knows.   Why sing of these?
Nor would I rank with Sam that man who went
‡‡Down into Aetna’s womb — Empedocles,
‡‡I think he called himself.   Themselves to please,
Or else unwillingly, they made their springs;
‡‡For glory in the abstract, Sam made his,
To prove to all men, commons, lords, and kings,
That “some things may be done, as well as other things.”

I will not be fatigued, by citing more
‡‡Who jump’d of old, by hazard or design,
Nor plague the weary ghosts of boyish lore,
‡‡Vulcan, Apollo, Phaeton — in fine
‡‡All Tooke’s Pantheon.   Yet they grew divine
By their long tumbles; and if we can match
‡‡Their hierarchy, shall we not entwine
One wreath?   Who ever came “up to the scratch,”
And for so little, jumped so bravely as Sam Patch?

To long conclusions many men have jumped
‡‡In logic, and the safer course they took;
By any other, they would have been stumped,
‡‡Unable to argue, or to quote a book,
‡‡And quite dumb-founded, which they cannot brook;
They break no bones, and suffer no contusion,
‡‡Hiding their woful fall, by hook and crook,
In slang and gibberish, sputtering and confusion;
But that was not the way Sam came to his conclusion.

He jumped in person.   Death or Victory
‡‡Was his device, “and there was no mistake,”
Except his last; and then he did but die,
‡‡A blunder which the wisest men will make.
‡‡Aloft, where mighty floods the mountains break,
To stand, the target of ten thousand eyes,
‡‡And down into the coil and water-quake,
To leap, like Maia’s offspring, from the skies—
For this all vulgar flights he ventured to despise.

And while Niagara prolongs its thunder,
‡‡Though still the rock primaeval disappears,
And nations change their bounds — the theme of wonder
‡‡Shall Sam go down the cataract of long years;
‡‡And if there be sublimity in tears,
Those shall be precious which the adventurer shed
‡‡When his frail star gave way, and waked his fears
Lest, by the ungenerous crowd it might be said,
That he was all a hoax, or that his pluck had fled.

Who would compare the maudlin Alexander,
‡‡Blubbering, because he had no job in hand,
Acting the hypocrite, or else the gander,
‡‡With Sam, whose grief we all can understand?
‡‡His crying was not womanish, nor plann’d
For exhibition; but his heart o’erswelled
‡‡With its own agony, when he the grand
Natural arrangements for a jump beheld,
And measuring the cascade, found not his courage quelled.

His last great failure set the final seal
‡‡Unto the record Time shall never tear,
While bravery has its honour, — while men feel
‡‡The holy natural sympathies which are
‡‡First, last, and mightiest in the bosom. Where
The tortured tides of Genessee descend,
‡‡He came — his only intimate a bear,—
(We know not that he had another friend),
The martyr of renown, his wayward course to end.

The fiend that from the infernal rivers stole
‡‡Hell-draughts for man, too much tormented him,
With nerves unstrung, but steadfast in his soul,
‡‡He stood upon the salient current’s brim;
‡‡His head was giddy, and his sight was dim;
And then he knew this leap would be his last,—
‡‡Saw air, and earth, and water wildly swim,
With eyes of many multitudes, dense and vast,
That stared in mockery; none a look of kindness cast.

Beat down, in the huge amphitheatre
‡‡“I see before me the gladiator lie,”
And tier on tier, the myriads waiting there
‡‡The bow of grace, without one pitying eye—
‡‡He was a slave — a captive hired to die,—
Sam was born free as Caesar; and he might
‡‡The hopeless issue have refused to try;
No! with true leap, but soon with faltering flight,—
“Deep in the roaring gulf, he plunged to endless night.”

But, ere he leapt, he begged of those who made
‡‡Money by his dread venture, that if he
Should perish, such collection should be paid
‡‡As might be picked up from the “company”
‡‡To his Mother. This, his last request, shall be,—
Tho’ she who bore him ne’er his fate should know,—
‡‡An iris, glittering o’er his memory—
When all the streams have worn their barriers low,
And, by the sea drunk up, for ever cease to flow.

On him who chooses to jump down cataracts,
‡‡Why should the sternest moralist be severe?
Judge not the dead by prejudice — but facts,
‡‡Such as in strictest evidence appear.
‡‡Else were the laurels of all ages sere.
Give to the brave, who have pass’d the final goal,—
‡‡The gates that ope not back, — the generous tear;
And let the muse’s clerk upon her scroll,
In coarse, but honest verse, make up the judgment roll.

Therefore it is considered, that Sam Patch
‡‡Shall never be forgot in prose or rhyme;
His name shall be a portion in the batch
‡‡Of the heroic dough, which baking Time
‡‡Kneads for consuming ages — and the chime
Of Fame’s old bells, long as they truly ring,
‡‡Shall tell of him; he dived for the sublime,
And found it. Thou, who with the eagle’s wing
Being a goose, would’st fly, — dream not of such a thing!

Source: Robert Charles Sands. The Writings of Robert C. Sands: In Prose and Verse, Volume 2.  Harper, 1834

Sam Patch jumped from a ladder at the base of Goat Island twice in the fall of 1829, and was killed later that year jumping at the Genessee Falls when he was drunk. Read more about Sam Patch here

Wirewalker by John B. Lee

wallenda
Nik Wallenda Crossing Niagara Falls on a Tightrope Wire, June 15, 2012. Photo by Peter Conradi. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

he set out on the cable—walking
over Niagara Falls
as though balanced on a thread
in his electric-orange raiment
like a brilliant spider
on a silk
a lovely incandescent
Marbled Orbweaver
this Wallenda
a third-generation daredevil
slowing over the plumb weights
then quick as an arachnid in a rush
from suddenly seeing itself being seen
in a busy garden
confident and striding
until he entered
the complex crosswinds
where vapours plumed and swirled
in a wet smoulder
it was then he felt
the breath and push
of unanticipated weather
it was then
he began
to pray to the God of sparrows
the God of gulls
and wind-hovering hawks
as he felt
the nudge and mischief
that does not love
defiance
and the ineluctable perils
that blur the burning thorax
of the wirewalker

his heart
and the drum-echo
of its pulse
blooming at the wrist with the flesh stung blue
the image of ancestors
the long drop of their dying
into the damp tear-gather of ghosts
the grey sorrow of rain pooling
in the long veins of an upcurled leaf
the thirsting lifeline
of a widow’s palm
what morbid wishfulness
hushes in us all
though we’re carried
by his brave motion
we also long in the deep plunge
of a common faith to go
roaring over the emerald edge
as we fall beyond knowing

Source: The author. “The Wirewalker” was previously published in my book The Full Measure (Black Moss Press, 2017) and then in my book Beautiful Stupid: poems selected and new (Black Moss Press, 2018)

John B. Lee  is the Poet Laureate of the city of Brantford in perpetuity and Poet Laureate of Norfolk County for life.

Dave Munday Went Over Niagara Falls Twice in a Barrel—and Lived by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

munday

munday
John “David” Munday being interviewed after going over the Horseshoe Falls in a barrel for the second time, Sept. 27, 1993. Photo by George Bailey. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

The first he knew of danger, he recorded it
all on video. You could see the rush of river
as the barrel bobbed the lip of the gorge.
But during the fall—all you saw
was white, as if the camera was flying
for a moment—then, a black screen. And maybe
that’s what brought him back. The lack of color
did not capture what he heard: a string of viola
at its highest pitch, the tender impossible cry
of a newborn crow. The first I knew of danger,
I ice skated on a pond and found fat goldfish
curling in long, slow patterns Just under
my boot. I knew the ice was thin, but

I continued anyway, the way I did
with several men that year. Each one
was a poor replacement for the one I lost
but each gave me a small gift: a bruised lip,
a cup of Dutch coffee, a tap of ash
on my windowsill. If there was a video
of me that year it would have opened
in a bank of snow, widened to reveal
the pond, the woman skating by herself
in circles. Perhaps there’d be a cardinal, just
a small slash of red on the screen. Everything
else would be white, white, and what
is the color of ice—blue, or is it more white?

Source: Bellingham Review,  Spring 2008, p. 115

The Falling: Three Who Have Intentionally Plunged Over Niagara Falls With the Hope of Surviving by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

1. Annie Edson Taylor (1901)

aimee
Annie Edson Taylor posing with her barrel and cat. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library

Don’t hate me because I sent the cat first.
Darling, desperate times require—
well, they require.
I told the little girl who owned the cat
I’d buy her a new one.
Days of waiting for a coin
of mention in the newspaper.
Days of waiting for wind—
for a sign, a purple swallow
circling the falls in a figure eight.
Draw me a line of three corks
and three holes so I can breathe in the barrel.
I thought I’d have all the floppy feathered hats
a gal could hope for.

No one seems to realize I am a star,
the original Queen of the Mist.
Tell me: What does a soul
look like after you dash
a plump cat to smithereens?
All I have are beat-down tap shoes
(someone even stole my barrel!),
a feather, a snip of string.

aimee
Diagrammatic View of the Barrel Used by Charles Stephens, July 11, 1920. Photo Courtesy of Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library

But look at the elegant line
of the arch of my foot, my boot,
how each hoop in my skirt
sings when I walk.
Isn’t that a picture?
Surely that’s worth a picture.

 

2. Charles G. Stevens, the Demon Barber of Bedminster (1920)

The right arm:
only thing
happy
to be found.
It even waved
a little.

 

3. Steve Trotter (1985,1995)

At age twenty-two, the youngest person to go over the falls successfully, and twice  

aimee
Steve Trotter Raising His Hand in Triumph Moments After Going Over the Falls in a Barrel for the First Time. August 18, 1985. Photo Courtesy of Niagara Falls (Ontario) Public Library

In Tallahassee,  you learn‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡to make the drinks
real sweet.  Sweet drinks‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡equals sweet skirts
to wait for you long after‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡the bar closes. At the base
there are boulders—‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡smoothed by years of drumming
water. And somehow,‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡you missed every single one.
You’ve got a charmed life,‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡a deer-bone amulet,
and star-spangled shorts‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡to cheer you on both trips,
But even you  know‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡your boundaries. There’s a limit to
how much  you are able to‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡ridicule her. Venus flytraps
snap shut  when the trigger hairs‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡are touched not once, but
are tapped  exactly twice. Look‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡at your life: It can count.
Two  is  good,‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡just enough, for you.

Source: Virginia Quarterly Review, vol. 93(1) Winter 2017, p.68-69

Click here for Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s website

 

The Niagara Scow by Amanda Tulk

scow

scow
Scow Rescue in Niagara River – Gustav F Lofberg being pulled to safety by breeches buoy. Courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library. August 7, 1918

Now it sits a pile of unstable rust
Amongst the falls
And their murderous rush
Two men on a routine trip
A few hours later Red Hill screaming
Dont lose your grip
A split second decision
Could have ended their lives
Lucky to make it home to their wives
One man risked it all
He figured as long as he tried
There was no fault
The unstable scow
Hung by a tree
Attached by a weak buckle
Inching the rope to answer the mens pleas
With each breath taking stride
Praying not to end it all
With a wavy ride
One man hooked and back on shore
Clipped to the rope
He goes back for one more
To this day
The scow sits, where waves strive
Two men, forever grateful
To be able to enjoy their lives

Source: Tulk, Amanda.  Can You Hear It? : Poetry by Amanda Tulk.  Niagara Falls, Ont. : Grey Borders Books, 2013

Click here to see a newspaper article about the scow rescue