No, there’s no mistaking Mr. Patch.
History will lead him to a watery grave
In my hometown of Rochester, NY.
He will disappear after he jumps
Only to return with the spring thaw.
There is so much in his brief fame
To ponder, that tugs at us.
Rochester, like any mill town
Is full of reckless death,
Yet the fate of Patch is on a par
With the local Native Americans, at least
When I attended grade school
We were taught the story
Of a man who made his living
Oddly, with a tame black bear
Any school child my age
Recalls his last moments on earth.
– Was there actually
A parade? A premonition?
Did he really waver at the top of the platform
Just before he jumped? Any contemporary of mine
Carries this, the language his body,
A wrong angle, recites
As it hits the gorge.
Here is the lesson of the
Tightrope walker, and of course,
A kid’s morbid curiosity –
A body, suspended in ice,
Worked over three months
By the elements –
What happens? One can only guess
How far away it must have seemed
From the energy of his last words,
No mistake in the way he brandished them
Against the spray.
William Carlos Williams
Will make much of the beginnings
Of our Icarus,
Who gets his start in Paterson, NJ,
To plunge headlong into my town’s
Settler past. What else have I learned
Besides the beauty of the dare?
Source: Prairie Schooner, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Fall 1993), pp. 12-13
Sam Patch jumped from a ladder at the base of Goat Island twice in the fall of 1829, and was killed later that year jumping at the Genessee Falls. Read more about Sam Patch.
Read the words and listen to a performance of Cornelius Eady singing his song Sam Patch.