On the other side of the Falls
There is a country expanding.
Highways and cities growing south.
Outlet malls with good deals. Postcards
That burrow scenic streetscapes in memory’s summers.
Cities where catalpa trees blossom and tourists
In June, with their phone cameras capture yet another pic
With the Niagara River crashing into rocks and mist.
With their wild pink rose and orange blossom shirts
They speed star spangled in the wind on freeways
Red white and blue confederate flags waving back
A solemn salute to history, to our red and white maple leaf
Emblem too, while on the other side she remains, America!
Her name still burning
With the idealisms of democracy
Solid underpinning to some newly built wall
Red flag of something terribly gone wrong,
Hopefully soon, blowing away like smoke in the air.
When I saw her yesterday she was still there, Lady Liberty
Holding out a torch to the Atlantic.
Instead today we lower our heads to watch the sightseers
Wearing yellow raincoats in the rapids of Lady of the Mist.
What can we do there that we couldn’t do on this side of the map?
On the border bridge we stand, unaware of political entanglements.
We want to keep her flame burning.
We are poets looking at her
Like a lover looking at her.
She is the land before the cartographers
Dissected her with historical demarcations
From Canada to Mexico.
We take photos of the beauty
Of America, north and south.
We salute her.
The freedom in her.
Lady luck in New York Harbour
Beyond regressive fascisms.
With a torch of freedom forever burning.
Burning in our memories, etched in our century.
Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews is a poet and the host & coordinator of the Oakville Literary Cafe Series. Her new collection, Sunrise Over Lake Ontario, was published in 2019. Her previous poetry publications include: Sea Glass, The Whispers of Stones, The Red Accordion, Letters from the Singularity and A Jar of Fireflies. Josie’s poetry has been shortlisted for the Malahat Review’s Open Season Award, Descant’s Winston Collins Prize and The Canada Literary Review ’s Summer Poetry Competition, The Eden Mills Festival Literary Contest and the Henry Drummond Poetry Prize. Di Sciascio-Andrews’ poetry has won first place in Arborealis Anthology Contest and in Big Pond Rumours Literary E-Zine.
The builder who first bridged Niagara’s gorge,
Before he swung his cable, shore to shore,
Sent out across the gulf his venturing kite
Bearing a slender cord for unseen hands
To grasp upon the further cliff and draw
A greater cord, and then a greater yet;
Till at the last across the chasm swung
The cable — then the mighty bridge in air!
So we may send our little timid thought
Across the void, out to God’s reaching hands —
Send out our love and faith to thread the deep—
Thought after thought until the little cord
Has greatened to a chain no chance can break,
And we are anchored to the Infinite!
Source: Markham, Edwin, The Shoes of Happiness, and Other Poems; the Third Book of Verse. Garden City, N.Y., Doubleday, Page & Co., 1915.
The Niagara Suspension Bridge was the first bridge to span the Niagara River, and was in service from 1848-1855. To get the initial cable across, a kite flying contest, pictured above, was held. Contestants used the prevailing westerly winds to fly the kites from the Canadian to the American site. 13 year old Homan Walsh won the contest. Progressively larger strings and cables were tied to the kite string and pulled across until cables could be anchored to either side and bridge construction could begin.
I love to experience the wind at Chippawa
whenever the Westerly blows strong.
How it presses back the eager boughs.
How it scuffs the tops of the water crests
that so mark the dark river’s frown.
How it seeks to scour this single bridge
that spans the narrows still.
How it empties itself where the Niagara begins.
How it sweeps and then swoops and then curls…
How it harbors all my longing
when it enters the cataract’s pull.
How it soars above the majestic gorge.
How it disperses the spray of a rainbow arc
before flying headlong toward the whirlpool of fate;
there to add to the mix of the new with the old
in a breach as endless as time can permit.
How it encourages joy from where ever it dwells
to flavor one’s hope, one’s heart, and one’s dream.
How it cleanses my spirit.
How it clings to my will.
Source: David Hobberlin
I am a Canadian poet currently living in Chippawa. Over the years my poems have appeared in a number of anthologies and periodicals beginning with the anthology ‘Canadian Poets of 1969’.
The poem ‘On the Waterfront of Toronto’ earned the Monica Ladell Award 2012 for best poem presented by the Scarborough Arts Society.
I have participated in various poetry readings and venues held in Toronto, Scarborough, Welland, St. Catharines, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and Niagara Falls.
June 17, 1848. Charles Ellet, Jr., the civil engineer who designed the suspension bridge soon to be built over Niagara Falls, today tested the service span to be used in its construction by driving his horse across the planking. – Brooklyn Eagle
I, Charles Ellet, Jr., licensed engineer
son of a provident Quaker farmer
now stand at the gorge where Niagara Falls
offers a prospect so sublime no rival
as yet is known on this great globe of ours.
Let men deride me as actor, rainmaker;
let it be said of me that I have loved
all carriageways and catwalks, all defiles
wide gaps and narrow verges to be bridged
am fond of women and horses equally
although the latter’s sensibility
is plainer far to read. However much
respect I hold for Nature’s rash downrush
her virginal ebullience, I itch
to take it in the compass of my fingers.
One does not “break” a horse, but wins its trust.
With towers and cables, not brute trusses;
with tact, not tug; suspension, not piled piers
I mean to overarch this wild splendor.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡* * *
Let them think me odd who see as if
asleep my silent self reflecting how
to span the rapids boiling at my feet
two hundred forty feet below the cliff
to be exact. An arrow from a bow?
A bird or a balloon? Why not a kite?
A kite could soar across the open rift!
The public loves such deeds. I’ll offer a prize,
a decent sort of prize, say five gold dollars
to the first man or boy who sends his string
to Canada.** The placard up three days
a local gap-toothed lad steps forth to win —
a widow’s son, shy skinny Homan Walsh.
He’s going to outlive me. Will he grow
up bold, race Thoroughbreds, get rich
performing acts of wild derring-do?
I don’t at this point know, nor know that
I’m to die a colonel in the Civil War
a hero slain leading a charge of rams
— warships rigged to ram opponents’ hulls —
on The Big Muddy to rout the Confederates.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡* * *
Backward looks are licensed. To look for-
ward isn’t done; is not acceptable.
But give me leave to leap beyond the date
of my flamboyance, 1848,
and introduce High-Jumping Sam: Sam Patch
clad all in white, who dives from the cliff into
the rainbowed pool at the foot of the cataract
and not content with one dive, makes it two.
Reprises at Genesee and straightway drowns.
Or Blondin in ’59 adored by thousands
who cheer his tightrope walk across the chasm.
He’ll have a score of successors, circus clowns
who mock the danger, simulate cold fear
half-fall, recover and go blithely on
some piggyback, some skipping rope, afire
with the same lust for fame and fortune
as those who dare chute down the drop in barrels.
The first a cooper proving his staves would hold
then scores of imitators taking the falls
by barrel, boat and cork, a steady parade
of madmen. And always the suicides . . .
Dramatic death! Love also knows no season.
Though bliss be brief that attends unbridled passion
romantic couples will hasten by canal
or rail to flaunt their ecstatic portion
fulfill the fleeting period of joy
that one wag titles “honey-lunacy.”
Some say the falls gently distract the lovers’
overweening focus on one another.
Some say the tumult of the cataract
conceals the newlyweds’ embarrassment
caught, as it were, in the rapturous nuptial act.
Others aver the falls’ ceaseless descent
evokes a rich manly response. Some brides
claim happy negative ions are produced
by falling water. You may take your choice
of savants, sages and hypotheses
but thus Niagara will come to boast
hotels and curio shops and carriage-rides
to vistas for photos of the just-now wived.
Skeptic I am, unmarried by design.
Still, might not the spectacle conjoin
male and female qualities into one?
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡* * *
Now let us turn back from this clairvoyant
glimpse to the day that Homan’s kite string held.
I tie it to a somewhat stouter cord
and next, a heavier one of finespun wire
and ever-mightier cables to support stout
wooden planks until from shore to shore,
just wide enough to let a phaeton pass,
a catwalk spans the gorge. The boards are spaced
to let rainwater through. Side rails? None.
I test it harshly across and back, first at
a walk, then jog, then crow-hop up and down
assured that it will hold. Once I trust it
I harness up my mare, to show she will.
A chestnut Morgan, foaled in my own barn
and trained to voice commands the way a skilled
driving horse need be, to keep from harm.
Vixen by name but not by temperament,
spirited, willing and confident.
Do not mistake submission, the highest
accolade man can bestow on a horse,
with truckling subservience. The mare must trust
the steady justice of the driver’s hand.
Fingers that speak, not snatch; a voice
that soothes and urges but withholds choice.
Vixen and I prepare to take our stand.
I stand up in the cart as in a chariot
the better she may sense we are allied
and ask her to move off at a rapid trot.
She never casts a glance to either side.
The crowd is aghast. Several women swoon.
The catwalk sways most fearfully but holds
beneath the mare and horseman in the sky
and that is how we cross, Vixen, my bold
partner, and I, Charles Ellet, Jr.,
bridge builder, licensed engineer.
**The kites were actually flown from Canada to the United States using the prevailing westerly winds.
Source: Kumin, Maxine. “The Bridge Builder.” TriQuarterly, Winter 1995, p. 162-166.
Also published in her 11th book of poems, Connecting the Dots, Norton, 1996
Maxine Kumin (June 6, 1925 – February 6, 2014) was an American author and poet who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1973. She was the Library of Congress Poet Laureate for 1981-1982