Choices by Jan Conn

Jan Conn, photo by Stacy Greene
Jan Conn, photo by Stacy Greene

the falls spill over grey walls of rock,
a repeated hallucination. marble green water
unfurls white crinolines of foam that
cascade over the edge like five thousand
angels in anklets of lace.

churning in the river’s jaw
like loosened teeth, chunks of ice
jostle each other near the lip
of boiling water, then grind
and shatter far below.

once a man crossed this on a tightrope —
others rolled over in barrels. some
survived, some dreamed over and over
white water caught in the grapes of their lungs.

last year a woman dropped her child
over the black rail. was slow
to scream for help. exposure
takes too long, she said.

all night the child’s fingers
climbed the bedroom walls
like the knuckles of spiders.
the mother bathed in moonwater,
wanted to live in the mouth of a rose.
the child was an octopus, hungry
for love or milk. she provided milk.
love was a luxury.

we walk between twisted trees,
make starts of conversation.
wind whips sheets of snow
over dead grass; pares our faces
thin as paper.

we lean over the rails, stare down
until the water shifts, begins to fall
up. spray beads our hands, we reel
like drunken boats. we’re not yet sure
why we’re here. a sign nearby says
keep back. it doesn’t say
don’t jump.

Source:Mary di Michele (ed.) Anything is Possible: a Selection of Eleven Women Poets. Oakville: Mosaic Press, ©1984

Jan Conn’s website

Queen of the Mist by John Joseph O’Regan

Annie Edson Taylor, Queen of the Mist, with her barrel and her cat. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library
Annie Edson Taylor, Queen of the Mist, with her barrel and her cat. Photo courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library
All hail to the Queen of the Mist,
     Brave Anna Edson Taylor;
She has beaten all former records,
     By her courage, grit and valor.

This great heroine of our nation,
     Has won both fortune and fame;
Now people all over creation,
     Will praise this illustrious dame.

On the twenty-fourth day of October,
     In the year ninteen hundred and one;
The Queen of the Mist in a barrel,
     The risk of her life did run.

Over the wonderful Horseshoe Falls,
     Where the waters roar like thunder;
The barrel leaped within sight of all,
     With our intrepid lady wonder.

Annie Taylor being assisted out of the barrel after going over Niagara Falls. Left is stunter Carlisle Graham, right is riverman Red Hill.  Photo courtesy <a href=
Niagara Falls Public Library” width=”285″ height=”300″ class=”size-medium wp-image-822″ /> Annie Taylor being assisted out of the barrel after going over Niagara Falls. Left is stunter Carlisle Graham , right is riverman Red Hill. Photo courtesy Niagara Falls Public Library

Down through the surging, foaming deep,
     She came in her barrel of oak;
The crowd with rapturous cheers did leap,
     When she was taken out and spoke.

This brave woman, who knows no deception,
     Did what no one did before;
And was given a hearty reception,
     When she landed safe on shore.

Here’s to the Lady of the Cataract,
     Who has Spartan grit and valor;
Thrice, all hail, Queen of the Mist,
     Brave Anna Edson Taylor.

She has beaten the world’s record,
     Her praises we will sing;
Although a little disfigured,
     She is certainly still in the ring.

Niagara Gazette. October 26, 1901.

Source: Whalen, Dwight. The Lady Who Conquered Niagara: The Annie Edson Taylor Story. Brewer, Maine: EGA Books, 1990.

Learn more about Annie Edson Taylor

Signor Farini by Ian Bell

“The Great Farini” walking on his tightrope, 1860

High overhead at the peak of the barn,
A ragged tin rooster is raising the dawn;
Along with the creature of curious grace,
Who takes his position and rests in his place,
And then with the slightest of smiles on his face,
He raises a foot and steps off into space.


Oh for an ounce of the courage I lack,
Oh for the feel of the wind at my back,
Oh for a tongue to cry passion and fire,
Signor Farini is walking the wire
Farini so high on the wire

The Great Farini walking the tightrope, 1860

Walking on air with the greatest of ease,
A tangle of barn swallows sharing the breeze.
Down from the lightning rod out to the tree,
Quick pirouttes and a bow from the knee.
Don’t breathe a word of the things that you see,
Nobody knows him like you and like me


Better to follow the long straight path,
Better to walk than to fly,
This field is too narrow to cut a wide swath,
Better to look to your feet than the sky,
Better look to your feet not the sky
Not the sky.

Up on the wire can you still smell the ground?
High, up so high can you still hear the sound
That comes from the people who all look so small,
Searching the sky with their backs to the wall
Hands in their pockets and necks craned so tall,
Patiently waiting to see if you fall?

Signor Farini stunting on the tightrope at Niagara Falls, 1860


Source: Ian Bell and The Dawnbreakers. Signor Farini and Other Adventures, Paris, Ont.: Free Range Recordings, ©2000.

The Dawnbreakers are: Kate Murphy, Brian Pickell, Geoff Somers, with Dave Zdriluk and Anne Lederman

Click here to hear Ian Bell and The Dawnbreakers singing Signor Farini

Click here to contact Ian Bell to purchase the CD Signor Farini and Other Adventures

Images courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library’s Historic Niagara Digital Collections

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”

Niagara falls…so get up why don’t ya? by Lynn Barry

One of the wonders…I wonder about…

Recently, a man
Jumped off
Niagara Falls
I went to see the
Falls today
And couldn’t
Imagine how
A person would
Get up the nerve
To jump off
Those fierce falls

The power and the
Shower and the
Mist-ery of it all
He must have been
So sad to try
And risk his life,
Hear death’s call
But! His falling
Did surprise him
He made it…
He didn’t die

So now I hope
He gets back up
And never
Wants to
Over the
Falls fly

@Lynn Barry, 2003

Source: Lynn Barry

Biographical notes about Lynn Barry

Kirk Jones, the subject of this poem, shortly after his trip. Courtesy of Niagara Falls Thunder Alley. Click here for information about Kirk Jones