Arriving early, before the lovers
have climbed up from their seastruck beds,
she stands where mist can penetrate
the way 7 a. m. changes the world—
softening, quickening little
hopes. She thought the Falls
were out in the country, not in a town.
To be wrong so many times, like finding the pyramids
adjacent to the Cairo bus stop,
or even herself alone in upstate New York
in the middle of a summer when she can imagine
pitching so many things overboard,
not a body in a barrel, not that,
but stacks of manuscripts, yellow stick-um notes,
even what she said yesterday,
into the surging megatons,
the burst of fabulous power that could light our lights
from here to Cincinnati or whatever the loudspeaker shouts
when she rides the boat that dips a herd of slickers
into the blinding white roar, the baptismal boat
where Japanese and Puerto Rican come up equally
wet. Despite the blurred narrtive,
she won’t forget how she lifted her face into the spray.
Before leaving, she drives around
the Canadian side, entering the thrift mart,
dimestore, buying a jug of bilingual bubble bath—
then spins toward the bridge again, refreshed,
sparked by the electricity that accompanies
days marked by nothing but what we see,
as if after all our sober intentions and hard work,
the days that carry us could be these.
Poet, teacher, essayist, anthologist, songwriter and singer, Naomi Shihab Nye is one of the country’s most acclaimed writers. Her voice is generous; her vision true; her subjects ordinary people, and ordinary situations which, when rendered through her language, become remarkable. In this, her fourth full collection of poetry, we see with new eyes-a grandmother’s scarf, an alarm clock, a man carrying his son on his shoulders.
I visited Niagara Falls only once. I was sixteen
And with my family. The Customs Man
Came to know us after a few days.
But every time we crossed the bridge,
He asked us “Where were you born?”
Because he had to.
I spent much time on the Canadian side
Because it was exciting to be in another country.
I watched the trains that ran through the center of town.
Longest trains I’d ever seen, Canadian railroad.
I saw the bell tower where an unfaithful blonde
Was strangled by her husband in the movie Niagara. But the Falls? The three waterfalls,
Demonstrating the full force of water at top speed—
All I did was look at them.
My parents had been under them.
It had once been the fashion
For honeymooners to travel
To the Falls. For the maximum
In daring romance, they’d don clumsy raincoats
And clunky boots
And ride the boat Maid of the Mist
As it passed beneath the muscular shower,
Getting each marriage off
To a drenching start.
As if to say: “We are not wed
Until we’ve been soaked
In the spray of the Falls.”
I wonder if this magic might work in reverse.
If I were to go to Niagara now
And stand beneath the Falls
And let the water change me,
Make me ready
Love that streams
Like non-stop water.
It is not a question of where I was born
But rather a question of where I will revive.
Under the rainbow arc of water
Where love and courage have been tested
And children are conceived.
No age is too late for a honeymoon.
To stand beneath the Falls
Is an item on my list.
Lynne Bronstein is a poet, a journalist, a fiction writer, a songwriter, and a playwright. She has been published in magazines ranging from Chiron Review, Spectrum, and Lummox, to Playgirl and the newsletter of the U.S. Census Bureau. Bronstein has published five books of poetry, including her latest, Nasty Girls from Four Feathers Publishing. Her first crime story was published in 2017 in the anthology LAst Resort. Her adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It was performed at two LA libraries. Her story “The Magic Candles” was performed on National Public Radio. She’s been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and four times for the Best of the Net awards.
“Long before the solitudes of western New York were disturbed by the advent of the white man, it was the custom of the Indian tribes to assemble occasionally at Niagara, and offer sacrifice to the Spirit of the Falls.
This sacrifice consisted of a white birch-bark canoe, which was sent over the terrible cliff, filled with ripe fruits and blooming flowers, and bearing the fairest girl in the tribe who had just attained the age of womanhood.”
MID the rush of mighty waters, in the thundering cataract’s roar,
Where Niagara’s streaming rapids down in headlong torrent pour ;
Where the serried waves like chargers madly leaping to the fray,
Fling aloft their snowy crests and toss their manes of flying spray,
Rearing, plunging, onward urging — Nature’s glorious cavalry !
Where th’ eternal sweep of waters like the unending surge of time,
Pulsing, throbs in rhythmic measure to a wondrous strain sublime :
Dwells, so ancient legends say, the mighty Spirit of the Falls,
Who from out the tumult, hoarsely, for unbounded homage calls.
Here the children of the forest, spellbound by that deafening roar,
Stopped to gaze with listening wonder, in the simpler days of yore ;
Awe-struck, gazed in silent worship, well beseeming Nature’s child,
As in chase they roamed the plain, or tracked in war the pathless wild :
And as often as they listened, on the voices of the flood
Deep were borne the Spirit’s mutterings, calling fierce for human blood ;
Ay, and sacrifice more cruel in that cry they understood :
Gift of Nature’s choicest treasure, peerless budding womanhood ! Continue reading “The Legend of the White Canoe by William Trumbull”→
Yon Rainbow, circling great Niagara’s brow,
Tells, children, of a chieftain’s awful vow;
Hark to its tale of sadness and of love,
All other legends of our race above:
The story of Wenona’s White Canoe,
The grand devotion of her lover true,
The fate that swept their youthful lives away,
Marked by Niagara’s Rainbow to this day.
For know, my children, in the days of yore,
Or ever white man’s foot had pressed this shore,
In forest deep and dark our fathers dwelt,
Before the Manitou devoted knelt,
Craved His protection and His mighty aid
Against the foe and famine — to Him prayed
When pestilence up-raised its baleful head,
Swelling the gruesome ranks of warrior dead.
But comes a day when prayer and offering fail,
When medicines of wise men naught avail,
When through the tribe, with footsteps grim and gaunt,
Stalk the twin spectres, Pestilence and Want.
In terror then, around the council fire
Gather the chiefs, their head Wenonah’s sire;
“What can we offer Thee, Oh! Manitou?”
Speaks the Great Spirit then: “The White Canoe!”
Full well they know the precious sacrifice
Demanded, but, though terrible the price,
To save the few still left it must be paid —
Niagara’s Water-god the fairest maid
Of all the tribe as offering must claim —
Her sacrifice to cleanse the tribe of blame.
Who shall it be? Alas! there is but one
On whom the lot can fall! The deed is done!
Like arrow to the mark each glance now turns
Toward fair Wenonah, and her sire’s heart yearns
At thought that she – his dear – his only child,
Must seek her fate beneath the waters wild.
Stately he rises in his place: “Nay! nay!”
He cries, “If naught but that our doom can stay,
We’ll brave the famine’s pestilential breath,
Till all the tribe lies stark and cold in death!”
Up springs Wenonah: “Father! hear me speak!
Though but a woman, think me not so weak
That I would shrink, a coward, from flood or fire,
To save my tribe! My blood is thine, my sire!
Lead on, Oh! warriors, to Niagara’s Fall
Its might shall not my woman’s heart appal!
Farewell, my sire! Uncas, my love, farewell!
Great Water-god! sound thou Wenonah’s knell!”
And now, through leagues of forest have they tracked
Their mournful way toward the Cataract.
Before that band of dusky warriors grim
Stalks, stern and silent, the gaunt form of him
Who, savage chieftain of a savage race,
Yet, sorrow pictured in his warrior face,
Now, torn with anguish, offers up his child,
A sacrifice unto the waters wild.
Amid the circle of her dusky maids,
Wenonah treads the darksome forest glades,
The fairest of her tribe — her Nation’s pride —
While Uncas walks dejected by her side.
And though her own brave eyes are filled with tears,
She strives with cheerful word to calm his fears,
But nought can give his troubled spirit rest,
Or loose those savage lips, with grief compressed.
Now, as she hears Niagara’s deep boom,
A premonition of her dreadful doom,
Reverberating through the forest aisles,
Up in her lover’s face she faintly smiles,
And whispers of that land beyond the grave,
That bourne of maiden pure and warrior brave,
Where she, though now torn weeping from his side,
In the Great Spirit’s home may be his bride.
The White Canoe receives its precious freight
Of flowers and fruit, and clad in mimic state,
Reclines amid the bloom, Wenonah fair —
Most luscious fruit, and fairest blossom there.
The warriors grim, smile on such beauteous bribe,
To lure the spirits’ blessing on their tribe,
And all save Uncas gaze with eager eye,
As bark and burden down the current fly.
But not alone must poor Wenonah brave
That dreadful vortex, for, though nought can save,
A love there is, death even cannot part,
And such the love that fills brave Uncas’ heart;
A single stroke and they are side by side,
Alone — together — ‘mid the boiling tide!
Hand clasped in hand as plunging o’er the brink —
Heart throbs with heart as in the flood they sink.
The striken warriors turn in mute dismay,
Then silent — saddened — take their homeward way,
And on their heads, from out the cloudless blue,
The spray-drops fall, tinted with rainbow’s hue
“The Spirit weeps,” they cry, “for Uncas brave —
The Spirit’s bow lies upon Uncas’ Grave!”
And still the mists from her vexed bosom rise,
Niagara’s tears for Love’s great sacrifice,
And still o’er Uncas’ grave the spirit’s rainbow lies.
Source: Willard Parker. Niagara’s Rainbow: The Legend of the White Canoe. Conshohocken, PA: Willard Parker Publishing Co., 1922.