The river carries me here
As a babe on its island’s shores I play
Palms and fingers squish soft sand, feet kick,
On my back, sun warmed laps of waves.
Currents change with the seasons
Moody green, then blue; milky, then grey
Factory polluted in a haphazard way.
In autumn steam rises after first frost
Buckhorn’s creek freezes over in white
Our skates’ steel cuts crust to granules of light
We hear the creak of the sheet unable
to bear our weight; it cracks, we lie on the ice
crawl to shore; imagine the classmate trapped
head under the lip of ice, face turned blue
frozen in his boots, red cap and jacket;
first of our generation to pay the price
like deer seeking to drink fresh water
stranded on ice floe; eyes wide in fear
headed for the Rapids, then the Falls.
Sooner or later the current carries us all.
Source: Kathy Gilbert, 2021
Award winning poet Kathy Gilbert grew up in Niagara Falls, NY, attending St John de La Salle, Prince of Peace, and 66th Street schools before moving to Grand Island. She currently resides in Northern California where she received an MFA in poetry from San Francisco State University. In 2020, she published a poetry collection, Aprils Three. Other poems have appeared in Transfer, Anomalous, Swampwriting, The Steel Toe Review, The Community of Writers, and,Vistas & Byways. She is currently working on a book about Niagara Falls.
I thought there was nothing in the fields of light
that was not there in darkness
After breakfast in a quiet house
surrounded by pastures of new frost
my heart crouches believing
the next sound will be
something it can sing
This is my persistent nightmare
I jump into a shallow river
Hy feet sink in mud
to mid-calf, the top
of my head
just breaks the surface
too soon for ice
to preserve me
At noon I warm my hands at the apples
ripening on a window sill
The smell of cold through an open window
On the corner of my desk
is a print of a mother-goddess
in a black plastic frame:
Third century B.C.
The guide-book defines
means living together
Sometimes a glancing blow
is the back of my wife’s hand
slowly down my thigh
And so it comes back to this
In Munich 1974
a man in a bar
said a cormorant
dropping from a cliff
is the soul of
whatever flung this
earth on the sea
Midnight on the highway through Perth County
wearing sunglasses against the headlights
I bite through the cold skin of an apple
Source: Waves vol 11, no 2 & 3, Winter 1983
Robert Billings, born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and raised Fort Erie, became well known in Canadian literary circles as a poet, critic, teacher, and editor of Poetry Canada Review and Poetry Toronto. In 1983 he penned the poem “Epiphanies of the First Cold Day.” Epiphany 2 foreshadowed his eventual fate. In 1986 after his marriage broke down and bouts of depression hit him, he threw himself into the Niagara River. His body was not recovered until six months later.
FOR ROBERT BILLINGS whose body was recovered from the Niagara Gorge
Some things leave us speechless ‡‡‡‡‡fear of the unknown ‡‡‡‡‡confronting death ‡‡‡‡‡falling in & out of love ‡‡‡‡‡trouble so acute ‡‡‡‡‡we feel strapped ‡‡‡‡‡in a strait jacket ‡‡‡‡‡abandoned ‡‡‡‡‡with no road back ‡‡‡‡‡no forward ‡‡‡‡‡mute as a sacrifice ‡‡‡‡‡waiting to be rendered
‡‡‡‡‡here ‡‡‡‡‡was beauty created ‡‡‡‡‡poems spun ‡‡‡‡‡like tapestries ‡‡‡‡‡to enhance ‡‡‡‡‡the bleak corners ‡‡‡‡‡of existence
‡‡‡‡‡underneath ‡‡‡‡‡some dark corrosive ‡‡‡‡‡ate at the spirit ‡‡‡‡‡the eclectic rocket ‡‡‡‡‡somewhere misfired
‡‡‡‡‡who can judge ‡‡‡‡‡the why ‡‡‡‡‡the day ‡‡‡‡‡desolate as famine ‡‡‡‡‡that drove you ‡‡‡‡‡to the brink ‡‡‡‡‡lonely as a last moment ‡‡‡‡‡your body engulfed ‡‡‡‡‡by roaring mist…
‡‡‡‡‡the cruel rocks ‡‡‡‡‡keep their secret ‡‡‡‡‡where a cry ends ‡‡‡‡‡and silence begins
Source: Canadian Author & Bookman, Vol. 63, no.3, Spring 1988
Robert Billings, a Niagara Falls, Ontario, native, became well known in Canadian literary circles as a poet, critic, teacher, and editor of Poetry Canada Review and Poetry Toronto. In 1983 he penned the poem “Epiphanies of the First Cold Day.” Epiphany 2 reads in part:
This is my persistent nightmare: I jump into a shallow river My feet sink in mud to mid-calf, the top of my head just breaks the surface It’s November Too soon for the ice to preserve me.
In Waves, vol. 11, issue 2/3, winter 1983
In 1986 after his marriage broke down and bouts of depression hit him, he threw himself into the Niagara River. His body was not recovered until six months later.
Herb Barrett (c1912-1995) was a poet who first published in the Hamilton Spectator in the 1930s, helped found the Canadian Poetry Association, and was a long-time poetry magazine editor. The Haiku Foundation named The Herb Barrett Award after him.
The Riall Heights Plaza was a refuge in all weather
You come through the door, yelling about the Republican Party and the pandemic response, high on speed. Magnifying the voices of breathless men who score the TV. Winning in the poll, losing as I leave.
Racing the sparkling, champagne SUVs which pour down the street. Asking for a truce once they take the lead. Passing a string of houses with front yard pesticides and driveway gates. The kid sleeping inside, born with a royal name.
Settling at the commercial plaza which shelters a bar, campaign office, and other businesses; which end and begin to end again. Beneath the desperate cover of a patio umbrella, I find a childhood friend. just as the rain collapses on the peeling parking lot.
We talk about holidays, the pitcher pricing, and attempting to forget every lie we’ve told, as we create the next. The rain moves on in a moment of disbelief. Likely toward downtown. Standing to walk home, he says you better not fucking die.
Source: The author, 2021
Cole McInerney is a student studying English at Ryerson University. He lives in Toronto. He was born and raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario. His poems have been published in several print and online publications, including Dots Publications, The Continuist, and Lippy Kids.
My grandmother at forty woke up before dawn
to dress, put on make-up, and curl her hair.
She was divorced, a mother of five, and a waitress
at the Best Western hotel in Niagara Falls.
The job started at eight o’clock but, always,
she left her apartment on Main Street early. Turned
the key in the lock. The click in the lock
told her she had the freedom to claim the open,
silent walk. She was a waitress at the Best
Western hotel in Niagara Falls. The boss was waiting
at the job, but the shift started at eight o’clock,
and just after dawn my grandmother still found worlds
of time. Worlds enough to breathe the air and know
she was alive. In 1980, in Niagara Falls,
the air smelled of water and smoke and big car
engines. Morning leavings of tourist bacchanals
performed all night before. But she didn’t care
for any of that. She was a waitress at the Best
Western hotel, and when she walked down
the Fallsview Boulevard hill she knew—she was alive.
These days my grandmother’s legs are frail
as the stilts of dying birds, but four decades back
they were still strong enough to work all day—
work and wake again before the dawn, wake
to descend the last stretch of hill. Watch
the rising sun turn Niagara’s jagged trench
and torrent liquid gold. Now at eighty years,
my grandmother trains my gaze with misty eyes
and lifts a brittle claw. When I was forty,
she confides, I was a waitress at the Best Western
hotel. Every morning before work, I’d walk down
to Niagara Falls. Watched the water. Knew
I was alive. A smile snakes across her skull. You know,
I thought I was so old. My God, she whispers,
I’d give anything now to be forty. Walk
down the hill to the water. Alive.
Source: FJ Doucet, 2021
FJ Doucet’s work has been published in grey borders magazine, The Banister, Hamilton Arts and Letters, Red Bird Chapbook website, Ascent Aspirations, and The Lyric. She is the newest president of the Brooklin Poetry Society. Doucet was born and mostly raised in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and though she has since lived on three continents, Niagara continues to haunt her.