Looking for Niagara by E. R. Baxter III

It’s Niagara lost
in the 20th century, disappeared
from the cereal box, up in mist,
a canvas backdrop in one hundred thousand
dead photographs, fading from postcards,
gone to Bermuda, Disney World, flown
to Aruba, splish took a bath at Niagara
splash went to Vegas for the weekend—
but had room at the motel
for Joseph and Marilyn
and were they impressed?
There’s no record of it.

But the first human record at Niagara
before it had name–the first human at ?
who left a flint spear point, water
falling at the whirlpool then,
at old gorge, and the spear point:
dropped in fear, in awe,
in wonder at new water,
ice falling who thought of it as !

Wandering hunter, archaeologists say, who
if he were there at all, didn’t stay long,
as if he had, for months let’s say, they’d
have known—would have found the tree
against which he relieved himself,
charcoal trace on stone, where he
cooked fish—as if no Niagara rock
has been left unturned.

The most recent evidence indicates he
did stay but a brief time—only minutes—
that dizzy from spoiled fish innards
he stumbled out of the woods
toward thunder, saw falling water, stared
slack-jawed into mists and steam rising
against south gorge wall, had visions:

The wall exploding, water rushing forth
gnawing south, divers fearful things—
dropped his spear, fled empty-handed
and throwing up back among the trees
and who wouldn’t have?

What he saw: the sun rising and setting
3 million 647 thousand 445 times, ten
thousand winters and springs, trees
leafing out, hot suns, leaves coloring,
withering, dropping, snows whirling,
grass greening, fogs gathering, rains,
trees dying, toppling, new trees as slim
as spears growing thicker than his body,
salamanders mating between his gnarled toes,
mice nibbling algae from his ankles, a wolf
marking territory on his left shin

Continue reading “Looking for Niagara by E. R. Baxter III”

Avery, 1853 by William Dean Howells

Joseph Avery stranded just above Niagara Falls. Daguerreotype by Platt Babbitt
All night long they heard in the houses beside the shore,
Heard, or seemed to hear, through the multitudinous roar,
Out of the hell of the rapids as 't were a lost soul's cries, --
Heard and could not believe; and the morning mocked their eyes,
Showing where wildest and fiercest the waters leaped and ran
Raving round him and past, the visage of a man
Clinging, or seeming to cling, to the trunk of a tree that, caught
Fast in the rocks below, scarce out of the surges raught.
Was it a life, could it be, to yon slender hope that clung?
Shrill, above all the tumult, the answering terror rung.


Under the weltering rapids a boat from the bridge is drowned,
Over the rocks the line of another are tangled and wound;
And the long, fateful hours of the morning have wasted soon,
As it had been in some blessed trance, and now it is noon.
Hurry, now with the raft! But O, build it strong and staunch,
And to the lines and treacherous rocks look well as you launch!
Over the foamy tops of the waves, and their foam-sprent sides,
Over hidden reefs, and through the embattled tides,
Onward rushes the raft, with many a lurch and leap, --
Lord! if it strike him loose, from the hold he scarce can keep!
No! through all peril unharmed, it reaches him harmless at last,
And to its proven strength he lashes his weakness fast.
Now, for the shore? But steady, steady, my men and slow;
Taut, now, the quivering lines; now slack; and so, let her go!
Thronging the shores around stand the pitying multitude;
Wan as his own are their looks, and a nightmare seems to brood
Heavy upon them, and heavy the silence hangs on all,
Save for the rapids' plunge, and the thunder of the fall.
But on a sudden thrills from the people still and pale,
Chorusing his unheard despair, a desperate wail:
Caught on a lurking point of rock, it sways and swings,
Sport of the pitiless waters, the raft to which he clings.


All the long afternoon it idly swings and sways:
And on the shore the crowd lifts up its hands and prays:
Lifts to Heaven and wrings the hands so helpless to save,
Prays for the mercy of God on him whom the rock and the wave
Battle for, fettered betwixt them, and who, amid their strife,
Struggles to help his helpers, and fights so hard for his life, --
Tugging at rope and at reef, while men weep and women swoon.
Priceless second by second, so wastes the afternoon,
And it is sunset now; and another boat and the last
Down to him from the bridge through the rapids has safely passed.


Wild through the crowd comes flying a man that nothing can stay,
Maddening against the gate that is locked athwart his way.
"No! we keep the bridge for them that can help him. You,
Tell us, who are you?" "His brother!" "God help you both! Pass through."
Wild, with wide arms of imploring, he calls aloud to him,
Unto the face of his brother, scarce seen in the distance dim;
But in the roar of the rapids his fluttering words are lost
As in a wind of autumn the leaves of autumn are tossed.
And from the bridge he sees his brother sever the rope
Holding him to the raft, and rise secure in his hope;
Sees all as in a dream the terrible pageantry, --
Populous shores, the woods, the sky, the birds flying free;
Sees, then, the form -- that, spent with effort and fasting and fear,
Flings itself feebly and fails of the boat that is lying so near --
Caught in the long-baffled clutch of the rapids, and rolled and hurled
Headlong on the cataract's brink and out of the world.

Source: Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: :Lothrop Publishing Co., 1901.

Image courtesy of The Library of Congress

About Joseph Avery

The Chippawa Creek by Anonymous

As the Chippawa Creek crept along by its banks,
Or, as poets would say, “was a-flowing,”
Though a fish that had spent his whole life in its stream
Could scarce tell you which way it was going,

And this fine gold-laced frog leaped lively about,
Quite gay in his gaudy green coat,
Or the large one in brown made the echoes resound
With the sound of his harsh-croaking throat:

In some places it widened and spread into swamps;
Near the shore it was green, tinged with yellow,
And the mud-turtles crawled, or were perched on old logs,
And the ater-snake basked in the shallow;

And slowly it wended by many a bend,
Till it reached the Niagara’s shore,
And ventured, though shy, its fortune to try,
To join in the river’s rude roar.

Then onward it sped to the loud-sounding fall,
For vain was its puny resistance;
Nay, it seemed to be pleased, as it felt itself eased
Of its former dull sluggish existence.

And it wimpled and danced in many a swirl,
As it ran to the cataract’s roar;
Yet it seemed much to doubt, nor ventured far out,
But kept close to the Canada shore.

Now it neared the rude rock where the traveler oft stands,
At the end of long-nursed Ideality,
And sees with surprise to his wondering eyes
That description has beggared reality.

Still it clung to the shore, and seemed much to dread
That it would soon become a nonentity,
And strove to the last, though hurrying fast
To where it must lose its identity.

And onward it came to the horrible leap,
Yet still midst the rush and confusion,
Its stream you could mark by the matter so dark
That it carried and held in solution.

So a silly young mouse sometimes strays from the nest,
Or perhaps a young frolicsome rat,
And play, till at last they find themselves fast
In the claws of a merciless cat;

Or perhaps a young man leaves his peaceful abode,
And trusts to some frolicsome friend;
And, though first in vice shy, he gets bold bye and bye,
And at last makes a sorrowful end.

He repines and looks back with remorse on the past,
And full fain would resume his condition;
But in vice so far he continues to sin,
Till he sinks in disgrace to perdition.

Source: McCabe, Kevin, ed. The Poetry of Old Niagara. St. Catharines, Ont. : Blarney Stone Books, 1999.


Originally published in The St. Catharines Journal, Dec. 3, 1846

To The Old School House on Lundy’s Lane by E. Anglian

When time with ruthless wings sweeps on,
    The earth of all its bygone best is shriven;
And so, old edifice, thy day is done;
    The newer day asks more than thou hast given.

In honest hearts a thought for thee enshrined,
    Of sheltering walls in days almost forgot;
When knowledge forced on the unwilling mind
    Saved many from ignominy's cheerless lot.

Man's mind is like a shallow streamlet flowing,
    Forever winding onward to the sea
Of time's oblivion, and the growing
    Like rare immortal fountain, starts with thee.

Prayers offered have ascended from thy walls
    For benefits the which our fickle mind
Scarce can remember, yet those earnest calls
    Brought sweet, refreshing mercy to mankind.

If in the rushing years that are to be
    No steadfast stone of memory marks thy end,
When rich endeavor finds its tide in thee,
    Thou has not been in vain, old hoary friend.



Source: Niagara Falls Evening Review, December 22, 1915.

 Before the poem: “I see that the old school has already been pulled down. It was, I believe, also used as a church, and this, with other things, caused me to write these new lines, which, if you think worthy, I shall be glad to see printed in your paper.”

Goat Island – Thomas Gold Appleton

Thomas Gold Appleton

Goat Island

Peace and perpetual quiet are around,
Upon the erect and dusky file of stems,
Sustaining yon far roof, expelling sound,
Through which the sky sparkles (a rain of gems
Lost in the forest’s depth of shade), the sun
At times doth shoot an arrow of pure gold,
Flecking majestic trunks with hues of dun,
Veining their barks with silver, and betraying
Secret initials tied in true love knots;
Of hearts no longer through green alleys straying,
But stifled in the world’s distasteful grots.
The silence in monastic, save in spots
Where heaves a glimmer of uncertain light,
And rich wild tones enchant the woodland night.

Source: Myron T. Pritchard, comp. Poetry of Niagara. Boston: Lothrop Publishing, 1901.