Uncertainty by Sarah Das Gupta

Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Dichotomy of light and shade
rainbow blurred in cloud and rain
white suicidal water
tangible tears of spray
rocks of despair, eddies of grief
days of uncertainty and loss
 
Still the blue face of control
cascades of courage and resolution
accepting the crags of destruction
the far horizon of the past
tethered on the edge of memory


Sarah Das Gupta wrote this ekphrastic poem, inspired by Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 painting Niagara, which was first published in The Ekphrastic ReviewOctober 20, 2023 in their Ekphrastic Challenges series. Read about ekphrastic poetry in Niagara.
 
Sarah Das Gupta is a retired teacher living near Cambridge, UK who has taught in India and Tanzania. Her work has been published in over 12 countries including US, UK, Australia, Canada, Germany, India, Croatia and Romania

Memories of a Niagara Falls Morning, 1856 by Emily Tee

Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

White. Cold. My first noticing was the dense mist.  Not tendrils curling around like fingers but thick like a blanket, moisture-rich, like being inside a cloud.  It would burn off later as the sun climbed in the sky.  I needed there to be good visibility for the crowd. Next, as always, I noticed the noise.  A pleasant natural cacophony at a distance, it became a pounding, rushing freight train as I walked towards The Spot.  We’d scouted it weeks before, using word-of-mouth and triangulating with newspaper reports from a few years back.  The crushing sound, the energy of the spray – it really made me feel alive.

My good friend Itzak was already waiting, well wrapped up in his long greatcoat with the collar turned up, thick padded leather gloves, his long mutton chop sideburns slick with the water vapour and his dark curls were straggling from under his peaked cap.  Itzak’s lips curled into a smile at my approach and he had that devilish twinkle in his eye confirming why he was the only person I could have trusted to help me with this caper.

If – no, when – I made it to the bottom of the Falls I’d be famous.  No-one else had ever managed the journey and survived, and certainly no woman, though truth be told very few had tried, and even then not voluntarily.  The last poor fellows had fallen, one almost rescued then pulled under by the cruel currents.  My journey would be sensational in a different way.  The reporter would be here soon, as would the usual troupes of tourists, as soon as the dense fog lifted to unveil the splendour of the Falls.

“Who’s that? Is he the man from The Gazette?” I asked Itzak, pointing to a tall stranger.  He looked old, probably as much as thirty. The man nodded in our direction but seemed preoccupied as he turned to look at the water cascading over the edge.

“Him?  That’s Frederic.  I spoke with him yesterday afternoon.  He’s some sort of artist, sketching the Falls.  You know how popular it is for postcards and pasting onto tourist tat.”

“He’s not drawing us, is he?” I was suspicious of the detached, aloof stranger.

“No, no worries there.” Itzak flashed me another smile.  “He told me he’s only interested in the Romantic Ideal of nature.  He won’t even paint what he sees, but only the best version of it, he said.”

“Hah! Perhaps he’ll have a new romantic ideal in mind later!”

Itzak smiled again and stepped to the side to reveal the barrel.  It was large, dark, heavy – befitting the seriousness of its purpose.  Painted on the side in large white letters was “Bella D’Angelo, Niagara Falls, 1856”.  Inside, it was packed with soft, cream, newly spun wool.  My playful mind suggested that it would be just like climbing into the clouds themselves, although thankfully drier.

“Are you sure you’ll have enough room in there?”

“We’ve tested it out, Itzak.  There’s enough room for me to snuggle down, for you to add the last soft pillow of wool on top and bolt on the lid.  As long as Bertrand is ready with the boat at the bottom all will be well.”

“Ah, here’s the reporter now. Let me help you in and you can talk to him from there before you nestle down.  That will make it more dramatic.”

And that’s where it all went awry.  It was a combination of the slippery rock under Itzak’s foot as he helped me, the proximity of the barrel to the edge – after all The Spot was the perfect launch place for a reason, that reason being ease of falling – and the power of gravity sucking at the weight of the barrel with me half in it.

I’ll give The Gazette reporter his due. As obituaries go, it was nicely written.  I’d get the fame I wanted but not quite in the way I desired.


This prose-poem / flash fiction, inspired by Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 painting Niagara, was first published in The Ekphrastic ReviewOctober 20, 2023 in their Ekphrastic Challenges series. Read about ekphrastic poetry in Niagara.

 

Emily Tee writes poetry and flash fiction, often based on ekphrastic topics.  She is the editor and judge of a series of monthly ekphrastic contests for The Wee Sparrow Poetry Press.  She’s had two nominations for Best Small Fictions Anthology from The Ekphrastic Review, who have published a number of her pieces in recent years.  Other ekphrastic work has appeared in Visual Verse.  Emily lives in the UK.

Leaping by Donna-Lee Smith

Niagara, 1857 by Frederic Edwin Church
Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

 

The first time it happened was on a family holiday when the parents piled the four of us into the back seat of our wood-panelled Plymouth station wagon, circa 1959.

Dan 10
moi  9
Deb  5
Dave 4

I hear ya, the 4 Ds, what were they thinking?

We piled in, we were piled on, we were on a camping trip from Ottawa to see the falls, the mythical falls!
 
A long day journey with moi pleading car sickness so I could sit up front and not stay squished in the back with the squabblers.  I know, you’re wondering how can 4 kids be packed into the back seat of a station wagon: no problem: this trip was 20 years prior to that belt legislation. Plus, we had Heidi with us, a usually sweet dachshund, but cranky car companion. What were they thinking?
 
Am writing this in the throes of slouching towards 75, can’t remember anything much about the actual road trip. But we must’ve played horses and cemeteries. You get points for horses you see in the fields and you lose all your points if someone yells ‘cemetery’. This requires lots of I saw it first. 
 
But I do remember the awestruckness of seeing the falls, feeling the mist, the magnetism of the cataract, the thunderous roar, the trembling…and the irresistible desire, more the irresistible need, to leap. To be one with the shoots, the flumes, the brume….
 
Even today, with small cascades, like Hogsback Falls on the Rideau River in Ottawa, I want to leap. 
 
Anyone out there feel the same tug?
 
Perhaps Annie Edson Taylor did when she first saw Niagara Falls. To design and build a barrel, at age 63, and throw herself into the river and over the falls! We’re talking a drop of 160 feet, a flow rate of 85,000 cubic feet per second! Though she was the first person to survive this remarkable feat, she was not the risk taker you might take her for: she sent her cat over the precipice a few days earlier, and he survived.
 
You? Would you go over Niagara Falls for fame and fortune? 


This prose-poem, inspired by Frederic Edwin Church’s 1857 painting Niagara, was first published in The Ekphrastic ReviewOctober 20, 2023 in their Ekphrastic Challenges series. Read about ekphrastic poetry in Niagara.
donna-lee
Donna-Lee Smith and friend
 
 
Donna-Lee Smith writes mostly from Montreal, but also from an off-the-grid cabin in the Laurentian hills north of the city, where bears raid the blueberries and wolves commune with the moon. At other times she writes from Gotland Island (Baltic Sea) where her grandchildren also eat blueberries and commune in Swedish.
 
She has a hankering to leap.

The Falls of Niagara by Roswell Rice

rice
Roswell Rice
from the frontispiece of his book Orations and Poetry


As
 I behold Lake Erie’s waters, 
….While passing down Niagara’s stream, 
I tremble at her awful thunders,
….Like waking from some nightly dream. 

Here nature’s God speaks to the stranger, 
….And terrifies his soul with fear ; 
And shows to him his awful danger, 
….If o’er this chasm he should steer.

His mortal barque would dash in sunder, 
….And break amid the raging stream ; 
The rocks and billows without number, 
….Would soon destroy hope’s faintest gleam.

The Indian warrior down was driven,
….Was threaten’d with the waves of death ; 
He o’er the cataract was riven,
….And to his fate resigned his breath.

Before he plunged the raging waters, 
….Which did his boon of life destroy, 
He to the Spirit prayed for quarters, 
….In the eternal world of joy.

He took his martial bow and armor, 
….And laid them gently by his side ; 
And heard the dismal waters murmur, 
….As he sailed on the rapid tide.

In steady gaze was fast descending,
….To plunge his deep and dreary grave ; 
At length he o’er the verge was bending, 
….And sunk beneath the foaming wave. 

Such is the emblem of the sinner, 
….Whose danger God has long foretold ; 
Yet he will spurn his only Savior, 
….And sell his life for love of gold.


Source: Roswell Rice. Orations and Poetry, On Moral and Religious Subjects.  Albany: C. Van Bentruysen, 1849

Also published in his Rice’s Orations and Poems, Springfield, Mass., Springfield Printing Co., 1883

The River of Stars: A Legend of Niagara by Alfred Noyes

The lights of a hundred cities are fed
    by its midnight power.
Their wheels are moved by its thunder.
    But they, too, have their hour.
The tale of the Indian lovers, a cry
    from the years that are flown,
        While the river of stars is rolling,
            Rolling away to the darkness,
Abides with the power in the midnight,
    where love may find its own.

She watched from the Huron tents, till
    the first star shook in the air.
The sweet pine scented her fawn-skins,
    and breathed from her braided hair.
Her crown was of milk-white blood-
    root, because of the tryst she would
    keep
        Beyond the river of beauty
            That drifted away in the
                darkness,
Drawing the sunset thro' lilies, with
    eyes like stars, to the deep.

He watched, like a tall young wood-
    god, from the red pine that she
    named;
But not for the peril behind him, where
    the eyes of the Mohawks flamed.
Eagle-plumed he stood.   But his heart
    was hunting afar,
        Where the river of longing whis-
                pered
              .  .  .  And one swift shaft from
                the darkness
Felled him, her name in his death-cry,
    his eyes on the sunset star.

She stole from the river and listened.
    The moon on her wet skin shone.
As a silver birch in the pine-wood, her
    beauty flashed and was gone.
There was no wave in the forest.    The
    dark arms closed her round.
        But the river of life went
                flowing,
            Flowing away to the darkness,
For her breast grew red with his
    heart's blood, in a night where the
    stars are drowned.

“Teach me, O my lover, as you taught
    me of love in a day,
Teach me of death, and for ever, and
    set my feet on the way
To the land of the happy shadows, the
    land where you are flown.”
         And the river of death went
                 weeping,
            Weeping away to the dark-
                ness.—
“Is the hunting good, my lover, so good
    that you hunt alone?”

She rose to her feet like a shadow.
    She sent a cry thro' the night,—
“Sa-sa-kuon,”  the death-whoop, that
    tells of triumph in fight.
It broke from the bell of her mouth
    like the cry of a wounded bird,
        But the river of agony swelled it
            And swept it along to the
                darkness,
And the Mohawks, couched in the
    darkness, leapt to their feet as they
    heard.

Close as the ring of the clouds that
    menace the moon with death,
At once they circled her round. Her
    bright breast panted for breath.
With only her own wild glory keeping
    the wolves at bay,
        While the river of parting whis-
                pered,
            Whispered away to the dark-
                ness,
She looked in their eyes for a moment,
    and strove for a word to say.

“Teach me, O my lover!"—She set her
    foot on the dead.
She laughed on the painted faces with
    their rings of yellow and red,—
“I thank you, wolves of the Mohawk,
    for a woman's hands might fail.
        —And the river of vengeance
                chuckled,
            Chuckled away to the dark-
                ness,—
“But ye have killed where I hunted. I
    have come to the end of my trail.

“I thank you, braves of the Mohawk,
    who laid this thief at my feet.
He tore my heart out living, and tossed
    it his dogs to eat.
Ye have taught him of death in a
    moment, as he taught me of love in
    a day.”
        —And the river of passion
                deepened,
            Deepened and rushed to the
                darkness.—
“And yet may a woman requite you,
    and set your feet on the way.

“For the woman that spits in my face,
    and the shaven heads that gibe,
This night shall a woman show you the
    tents of the Huron tribe.
They are lodged in a deep valley.
    With all things good it abounds.
        Where the red-eyed, green-
                mooned river
            Glides like a snake to the dark-
                ness,
I will show you a valley, Mohawks, like
    the Happy Hunting Grounds.

“Follow!” They chuckled, and followed
    like wolves to the glittering stream.
Shadows obeying a shadow, they
    launched their canoes in a dream.
Alone, in the first, with the blood on
    her breast, and her milk-white crown,
        She stood. She smiled at them,
                Follow!
            Then urged her canoe to the
                darkness,
And, silently flashing their paddles, the
    Mohawks followed her down.

And now—as they slid thro' the pine-
    woods with their peaks of midnight
    blue,
She heard, in the broadening distance,
    the deep sound that she knew,
A mutter of steady thunder that grew
    as they glanced along;
          But ever she glanced before them
              And glanced away to the dark-
                    ness;–
And or ever they heard it rightly, she
    raised her voice in a song:—

“The wind from the Isles of the Blessèd,
    it blows across the foam.
It sings in the flowing maples of the
    land that was my home.
Where the moose is a morning's hunt,
    and the buffalo feeds from the
    hand."—
        And the river of mockery
                broadened,
            Broadened and rolled to the
                darkness—
“And the green maize lifts its feathers,
    and laughs the snow from the land.”

The river broadened and quickened.
    There was nought but river and sky.
The shores were lost in the darkness.
    She laughed and lifted a cry ;
“Follow me! Sa-sa-kuon!"  Swifter
    and swifter they swirled—
        And the flood of their doom
                went flying,
            Flying away to the darkness,
“Follow me, follow me, Mohawks, ye
are shooting the edge of the world.”

They struggled like snakes to return.
    Like straws they were whirled on
    her track.
For the whole flood swooped to that
    edge where the unplumbed night
    dropt black,
The whole flood dropt to a thunder in
    an unplumbed hell beneath,
         And over the gulf of the thunder
             A mountain of spray from the
                 darkness 
Rose and stood in the heavens, like a     
    shrouded image of death.

She rushed like a star before them.
    The moon on her glorying shone.
“Teach me, O my lover!”—her cry
    flashed out and was gone.
A moment they battled behind her.
    They lashed with their paddles and
    lunged;
        Then the Mohawks, turning
                their faces
            Like a blood-stained cloud to
                the darkness,
Over the edge of Niagara swept together
    and plunged.

And the lights of a hundred cities are
    fed by the ancient power;
But a cry returns with the midnight;
    for they, too, have their hour.
Teach me, O my lover, as you taught
    me of love in a day,
        —While the river of stars is rolling,
                Rolling away to the darkness,
Teach me of death, and for ever, and
    set my feet on the way!


Source: Noyes, Alfred (poem); Bawden, Clarence K. (music)The River of Stars: A Legend of Niagara. New York: G. Schirmer, 1917. [sheet music excerpt]

From Poetry Atlas:

Alfred Noyes was born in England and studied at Exeter College, Oxford (though he did not complete his degree). He spent long periods of his life in America, including the years of World War II. From 1914 to 1923 he was Professor of Modern English Literature at Princeton University in New Jersey. After the death of his first wife in 1926, he converted to Roman Catholicism. He later remarried and lived in Ventnor on the Isle of Wight. He is buried on the Isle of Wight, at Frewshwater.