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

“She’s Coming!” by Joan Murray

Murray

murray
Annie Edson Taylor Before Her Trip Over the Horseshoe Falls. Photo courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

A crowd flowed onto the Suspension Bridge.
Another onto Prospect Point.
A third onto the Three Sisters Islands
—all along the railings in the gorge.
Across the river, a thousand more poured down to Table Rock.
And up the shore, a hundred others—
men, women and children—
stood by the dock at Truesdale’s cottage, waiting to see me off.
There were no clouds that morning,
and so much light it seemed ten suns were whirling
as I stepped into the skiff—in a tossing sea of handkerchiefs—
and waved to them (while Russell blew a kiss)
amidst the general hurrah.

Then we set out—with Truesdale straining the tiller
against the single, headstrong sail—
and Billy Holleran, a strong, strapping boy, manning the furious oars.
The barrel rode upright behind us, bucking to run its course
—and was jerked back to correction by the stern instruction of our rope.
A quarter way out, we stopped on an island where I changed my clothes:
no hat or dress now, but a blouse left open at the throat,
and a skirt hemmed just below the knee.
I made them turn away while I backed in through the rim—
then they fastened down the lid,
rolled me to the shore,
turned me upright—
pushed me in.

Four boats now. And behind the first,
the towed barrel, weighed down with me—
yet still intractable.
And in the last, a cameraman recording every stroke
as they rowed a mile across to the Point of No Return—
where the river starts to churn,
and a sailor knows he’d better bend his back
—or else go over.
There they knocked. And cut the rope.
They must have pulled hard then to turn themselves south,
but I went north—(a half mile more before I’d reach the brink).
I careened and spun. Once it tossed me clear up out of the water.
I went unbidden—and unwelcome—where it rushed me.

I wished I could have watched from some place overhead
and heard the voices racing down the shore—
passing on the message—
dock to island, island to rock, rock to bridge:
“She’s coming!”
I would have liked to see them turn their heads—
wave after wave, as each new group heard the murmur
and craned their necks to catch a glimpse.
I’d have liked to see the trolley racing down the shore,
and the incline railway rushing down the gorge
—so the ones who’d waved from Truesdale’s dock
could be standing on the rocks below the Falls,
looking up—to see if anything would come.

from Queen of the Mist,
a novel in verse about the first person to go over Niagara in a barrel

Visit Joan Murray’s website

See Queen of the Mist on the Beacon Press website

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