My memories begin with the cascade
of tears at Niagara Falls as I screamed
NO when my father led us to board
the boat he said would be sailing
“under the Falls.” Under the Falls,
he said. Distinctly Under the Falls.
Not near, not close to, but under.
What three-year-old would not weep
uncontrollably, unstoppingly, until
assured there would be no boat ride
that day or the next. Seventy years
later, right after marrying his husband
at Niagara Falls City Hall, the old boy
kissed his mate on The Maid of the Mist
as it carried them crying and laughing
quite safely not quite under the Falls.
Niagara Falls is a long poem of 700 lines where three stories, growing up Catholic in the industrial North, a honeymoon to Niagara Falls and a pilgrimage to Assissi, Italy, are interwoven in a master work of fractured narration. The language is relaxed and upbeat where metaphysical concerns meet, head on.
Excerpt from Niagara Falls (p. 8-9):
25 years ago, here,
on a rainy camping trip
my father splurged on
Ripley’s Believe It
Or Not Museum where I stared
at the shrunken head.
I bought a postcard: The Hair continues to grow. I still have it: long beaded threads
hang from the nose like a rosary.
Source: Jim Daniels. Niagara Falls. Easthampton, MA: Adastra Press, 1994
I’VE seen them come, I’ve seen them go, ‡‡Too numerous to mention,
And I put on a mighty show ‡‡To capture their attention.
I hurl me boldly down the cliff ‡‡And thrash myself to spray,
Yet none of them would notice if ‡‡I ran the other way.
I think it’s very rude to me ‡‡That any groom and bride
Should come this distance just to be ‡‡So darned preoccupied !
Source: Saturday Evening Post, May 22, 1948
Biographical sketch of Norman R. Jaffray. Saturday Evening Post, March 28, 1942:
Jaffray, Just Jaffray
NORMAN JAFFRAY first appeared in Post Scripts sixteen years ago and he’s been appearing there with regularity ever since. You’ll even find him there this week, with WHODUNIT? Acceding to a deluge of requests from four readers (Hansel, Ole, Sergi and Tong Lee Jaffray), we are this week shaking down the fruit of Mr. Jaffray’s persistence.
Here he is:
“Yes, here I am—but guess which? Not the one in uniform—no-o. Not the one in the middle — no-o, but you’re getting warmer. . . . The scene is Santa Barbara, where I live, the friends. Flying Officer Robert French, RAF, and Mrs. Shreve Ballard, and the background is the blue Pacific (advt.).
“Where to start? Born? Yes. In Brooklyn, N. Y., and came to this country as a small boy.That was in 1904. Roosevelt was President—he still is; horse and buggy were the popular mode of transportation—nothing has changed.
” I went to Yale and then to Trinity College, Cambridge, and in 1926 I came out West. The country was filling up, and men sought new lands where they could start life afresh. I picked on Los Angeles, and it was there that Ted Cook, of the Examiner, printed my first piece in Cook-Coos. I’ve been freelancing ever since. I’m not even married.
” The other day I went to Los Angeles again, this time for a rendezvous with some fellow contributors to Post Scripts. Local No. 138 of the Curtis chain gang, comprising Ethel Jacobson, Kay Hosking and your correspondent, met and passed several resolutions, which were quickly tabled. Just to give you an idea of what shop talk among writers is like:
ETHEL: I liked that Christmas poem of yours—the one with the bad scansion.
KAY: Done anything lately, yourself?
ETHEL: Yes, something for Easter.
NORMAN (apprehensively): Nothing long, I hope?
ETHEL: Whole column.
KAY: Don’t you ever get sick or anything?
ETHEL; Do you like Y?
KAY AND NORMAN; Like that. (Gesture of cutting throat)
KAY: How about Z?
ETHEL AND NORMAN: Well, Z’s stuff is pretty good. Of course, it doesn’t rhyme and . . .
NORMAN; Well, I’ve got to drive back to Santa Barbara. (Goes to door, feeling for knife in shoulder blades.) And please . . . please don’t talk about me when I’m gone! (He goes. They do.)”
I visited Niagara Falls only once. I was sixteen
And with my family. The Customs Man
Came to know us after a few days.
But every time we crossed the bridge,
He asked us “Where were you born?”
Because he had to.
I spent much time on the Canadian side
Because it was exciting to be in another country.
I watched the trains that ran through the center of town.
Longest trains I’d ever seen, Canadian railroad.
I saw the bell tower where an unfaithful blonde
Was strangled by her husband in the movie Niagara. But the Falls? The three waterfalls,
Demonstrating the full force of water at top speed—
All I did was look at them.
My parents had been under them.
It had once been the fashion
For honeymooners to travel
To the Falls. For the maximum
In daring romance, they’d don clumsy raincoats
And clunky boots
And ride the boat Maid of the Mist
As it passed beneath the muscular shower,
Getting each marriage off
To a drenching start.
As if to say: “We are not wed
Until we’ve been soaked
In the spray of the Falls.”
I wonder if this magic might work in reverse.
If I were to go to Niagara now
And stand beneath the Falls
And let the water change me,
Make me ready
Love that streams
Like non-stop water.
It is not a question of where I was born
But rather a question of where I will revive.
Under the rainbow arc of water
Where love and courage have been tested
And children are conceived.
No age is too late for a honeymoon.
To stand beneath the Falls
Is an item on my list.
Lynne Bronstein is a poet, a journalist, a fiction writer, a songwriter, and a playwright. She has been published in magazines ranging from Chiron Review, Spectrum, and Lummox, to Playgirl and the newsletter of the U.S. Census Bureau. Bronstein has published five books of poetry, including her latest, Nasty Girls from Four Feathers Publishing. Her first crime story was published in 2017 in the anthology LAst Resort. Her adaptation of Shakespeare’s As You Like It was performed at two LA libraries. Her story “The Magic Candles” was performed on National Public Radio. She’s been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize and four times for the Best of the Net awards.