All the restaurants are named Betty’s
The water is turquoise blue, deep and cool
Niagara Falls, NY
Driving towards the falls on the scenic Parkway
The scene on the left is deep turquoise blue
Unlike water anywhere else in the world
A river as wide as a lake, forests of trees
The scene to the right is chemical factories
And rusted warehouses, and inlets or outlets of water
That sit sick in the stomach of history
Billboards saying mesothelioma
Clinging from Buffalo
To the boarded up windows
That line Niagara St.
And welcome you into
What used to be
A wonder of the world
Rapt and amazed, midst scenes of rarest loveliness,
Stand I alone, entranced in awe and ecstasy
Gazing in silence o’er the cliffs precipitous,
Whence, with united front, thy waters ponderous
Tranquilly take their giant leap, Niagara!
Forward declining, wreathed in conscious majesty,
Shimmering spray and jewelled drop, tossed back from thee,
Wave pressed to wave in serried ranks, as, steadily,
Man against man, sweeps on a line of infantry, —
Into the vortex rolls thy flood intrepidly.
In the fierce rapids, many a sharp rock, secretly,
Under thy foaming current lay in wait for thee,
Gashing and tearing thy rent bosom wantonly ;
Lovliest of Rivers, sad and dire similitude,
So in life’s breakers strives man’s heart with destiny.
Tossed in their raging stream by waves impetuous,
Glamor of hope and youthful dreams deserting it,
So have we seen, — ah River wild and beautiful,
Art thou not here of “fortune’s buffets” typical? —
Under life’s chaos sinks heart-broke humanity.
Hither and thither whirled in eddies infinite,
Leaping in lambent jets and cascades showery.
Over the sunk rocks pourest thou unceasingly;
So in life’s drift and swirl man writhes defiantly,
Only in wreck at last to end disastrously.
Cometh a change to Life and River, presently;
Out of its perils Life emerges, jubilant,
E’en as thy waters seek in calm serenity,
Under this arched and rainbow broidered canopy,
Torrent immortal, rest an instant in thine agony.
Haste is there none, but eagerness and promptitude;
Frivolous things are cast aside disdainfully;
Nothing the brink can pass but heaven-lit purity;
As on they emerald crown, we see, Niagara.
Naught but the gem-like gleams from the blue sky over thee.
Out of the far off past emerging regally,
Stately in step, thy grandest one now daring thee, —
Architect fine and subtle, never loitering,
Minute by minute, frost and whirlwind aiding thee,
Toilest thou deftly, thine own highway channelling.
Onward proud River! — many a voiceless century
Into the shadow past had vanished recordless,
Did not the lines and chinks of thy shrewd chiseling,
Scarring the polished tablets of thy cenotaph,
Tell us the mystic story of thy genesis.
Source: The Magazine of Poetry and Literary Review, vol. 6: American Poetry. 1894
Originally published in Niagara River and Falls. Buffalo: Thos. F. Fryer, 1886; also in Warren, Ina Russelle (ed.) The Poets and Poetry of Buffalo. Buffalo: Charles W. Moulton, n.d.
THE WATER TALKED TO THE TURBINE ‡‡AT THE INTAKE’S COUCHANT KNEE:
Brother, thy mouth is darkness ‡‡Devouring me.
I rush at the whirl of thy bidding; ‡‡I pour and spend
Through the wheel-pit’s nether tempest. ‡‡Brother, the end?
Before fierce days of tent and javelin, ‡‡Before the cloudy kings of Ur,
Before the Breath upon the waters, ‡‡My splendors were.
Red hurricanes of roving worlds, ‡‡Huge wallow of the uncharted Sea,
The formless births of fluid stars, ‡‡Remember me.
A glacial dawn, the smoke of rainbows, ‡‡The swiftness of the canoned west,
The steadfast column of white volcanoes, ‡‡Leap from my breast.
But now, subterranean, mirthless, ‡‡I tug and strain,
Beating out a dance thou hast taught me ‡‡With penstock, cylinder, vane.
I am more delicate than moonlight, ‡‡Grave as the thunder’s rocking brow;
I am genesis, revelation, ‡‡Yet less than thou.
By this I adjure thee, brother, ‡‡Beware to offend! For the least, the dumbfounded, the conquered, ‡‡Shall judge in the end.
THE TURBINE TALKED TO THE MAN ‡‡AT THE SWITCHBOARD’S CRYPTIC KEY:
Brother, thy touch is whirlwind ‡‡Consuming me.
I revolve at the pulse of thy finger. ‡‡Millions of power I flash
For the muted and ceaseless cables ‡‡And the engine’s crash.
Like Samson, fettered, blindfolded, ‡‡I sweat at my craft;
But I build a temple I know not, ‡‡Driver and ring and shaft.
Wheat-field and tunnel and furnace, ‡‡They tremble and are aware,
But beyond thou compellest me, brother, ‡‡Beyond these, where?
Singing like sunrise on battle, ‡‡I travail as hills that bow;
I am wind and fire of prophecy, ‡‡Yet less than thou.
By this I adjure thee, brother, ‡‡Be slow to offend! For the least, the blindfolded, the conquered, ‡‡Shall judge in the end.
THE MAN STROVE WITH HIS MAKER ‡‡AT THE CLANG OF THE POWER-HOUSE DOOR:
Lord, Lord, Thou art unsearchable, ‡‡Troubling me sore.
I have thrust my spade to the caverns; ‡‡I have yoked the cataract;
I have counted the steps of the planets.‡‡ ‡‡What thing have I lacked?
I am come to a goodly country, ‡‡Where, putting my hand to the plow,
I have not considered the lilies. ‡‡Am I less than Thou?
THE MAKER SPAKE WITH THE MAN ‡‡AT THE TERMINAL-HOUSE OF THE LINE:
For delight wouldst thou have desolation ‡‡O brother mine,
And flaunt on the highway of nations ‡‡A byword and sign?
Have I fashioned thee then in my image ‡‡And quickened thy spirit of old,
If thou spoil my garments of wonder ‡‡For a handful of gold?
I wrought for thy glittering possession ‡‡The waterfall’s glorious lust;
It is genesis, revelation,— ‡‡Wilt thou grind it to dust?
Niagara, the genius of freedom, ‡‡A creature for base command!
Thy soul is the pottage thou sellest; ‡‡Withhold thy hand.
Or take him and bind him and make him ‡‡A magnificent slave if thou must —
But remember that beauty is treasure ‡‡And gold is dust.
Yea, thou, returned to the fertile ground ‡‡In the humble days to be,
Shalt learn that he who slays a splendor ‡‡Has murdered Me.
By this I adjure thee, brother, ‡‡Beware to offend!
For the least, the extinguished, the conquered, ‡‡Shall judge in the end.