Sons of Adam by Patricia Borneman Dagle

Sons of Adam, watch!

Thundering clouds
over the roar of a thousand nights
smashing water
spilling mist on ancient rocks.

Tremors beget the moving form
created to carry men in God’s direction
yet,

Sons of Adam, Listen!

Building the Tower of Babel
dumb in spirit
yet brilliant in designing
a god to themselves

In the midst of futile human endeavor
stands a mighty warrior,
an ancient ghost
“Onguirahra! Noss oossima!”
tall, courageous
believing in a power
greater than that
which was created

Sons of Adam, look!

On mighty rushing wings
He raises his spear
and with one fell swoop
brings down
the concrete rocks.

and the river rises up
to greet Him
moving faithfully forward
with the thundering power of the falls.

Peace is restored
and a tree planted by the river
reaches its roots out
and grows among men’s ashes.

while the warrior
rests beneath its shade.
And is refreshed
in the cool depths
of Onguirahra!

 

Source: The author, July 8, 2001.

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.

                                            II.

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.

                                            III.

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.

                                            IV.

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

Falling with the Falls: Niagara Prose-Poem by Boris Glikman

FALLING WITH THE FALLS
 


I first came face to face with Him when I was five and skinny to the bone. Mum took me to meet Him as soon as we arrived at the seaport town, even though it was already night. From a distance I could hear His voice, the steady rhythm of His basso. Perhaps it was just as well that I could not see Him on our first meeting, for all my other senses were saturated with His presence. I stood there, absorbing His being through my body’s pores, yearning to sacrifice my child’s body to His power so that in swallowing me up I would become one with Him – He part of me and I part of Him. Mum was calling me to go back to the hotel, but I just stood there, not willing, indeed, not able to move a fibre of my body, a muscle of my limbs.

That was the day water, in its most magnificent and astonishing incarnation, came into my existence and a Love was born.

And now here at the Falls this love affair, after years of tiffs and misunderstandings, is being rekindled.

The flow of the river leading up to the Falls looks menacing and brooding. There is a belligerent arrogance in its bearing, like a bully gearing up for a fight, totally unlike other rivers which flow with sweet serenity and smiles on their faces.

There is water cascading all around me in a form I’ve never witnessed before – air-like and rising as clouds of smoke. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see earth turning into fire or air turning into earth here, fulfilling every alchemist’s deepest dream. Perhaps an error of alchemists was in believing that a philosopher’s stone is a thing rather than a location, for at this place all metamorphoses are possible: the four elements transmute into one another at will; incorrigibly jaded senses, which once saw only disappointment and disillusionment in the world, acquire child-like wonder and see anew the beauty of life.
Incongruously and paradoxically the only thing that has any stability, that survives unchanged and unscathed in this torrential maelstrom of air and water is that most insubstantial element of alllight. There are myriads of rainbows festooning the waterfall, blithely making their home in the very midst of the plunging hurricane. They shine forth gloriously, oblivious to the cataclysm that surrounds them.


For a moment, my rapture is tainted by doubt. Sure, this is spectacular and all, but what significance does it have to my life, to human existence as a whole? What is the meaning of this downpour, the meaning of me standing here, watching it at this particular point in time?

Is this Nature’s allegorical portrayal of the original Fall from Grace? Or is it a liquid metaphor for the final tumble we all eventually must take? For there is no way the fallen water can ever return to its previous plane of being, except as a misty ghost of its former self.

An inexorable flow of a solid wall of water.

How easy, how tempting it is to join the plunge, to become one with the deluge! The avalanche is calling out to me with all its might; it is so persuasive in its roar. The whole world is falling around me and I am the odd one out, stubbornly holding my ground and remaining ludicrously stationary. 

Perhaps only this colossal torrent is capable of wiping away all of my sins, cleansing my being from the layers of inner grime accumulated over the decades. I must position myself so I am standing directly under the deluge, right where the waterfall hits the ground.

And I emerge from beneath the Falls reborn – all shiny and pure again, like that five-year-old child.

Source: The Author, April 13, 2016

About Boris Glikman