Lena: A Legend of Niagara by Conway E. Cartwright

Table Rock, Niagara
by Edward Ruggles, 1867
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

Cartwright wrote this long poem about Lena, The Maid of the Mist, based on settler narratives of the Native peoples of Niagara Falls

See this book at Hathi Trust

Originally published Dublin: William McGee, 1860

Conway Edward Cartwight (1837-1920) was a Canadian poet and cleric.

A Legend of Niagara by Florio

Upper Niagara River and Goat Island. Photograph by Andrew Porteus, 2004

An Indian, in the days of yore —
Of “fish and fur’s” abounding store —
Would cross Niagara’s stream —
Just where the river, smooth and wide,
Pours toward the gulf its treacherous tide,
Like some deceitful dream.

Near by, a bear was crossing, too :
Whose head no sooner rose to view,
Than straight the “Brave” urged his canoe
To grasp an easy prey ;
But Bruin fled not — glad to greet
A resting-place for weary feet,
He turned and swam his foe to meet,
Upon the watery way.

They met — the paddle’s blow was dealt ;
With paw received, or scarcely felt
By fur-protected bear.
Who, reaching up as for a bough,
Climbed gracefully into the prow
And sat serenely there.
The astonished “Brave” sought in his turn
The “ultima thule” of the stern,
And then sat down to stare.

And thus in armed neutrality
They sat in thoughtful “vis-à-vis,”
While the bark drifted silently
To meet the breakers white ;

But when the Indian seized an oar,
To stay his course, or seek the shore,
Admonished by an ominous roar,
He dropped it in affright :

For in those cavernous jaws he sees
Molars, incisors, cuspidés —
Enough a hero’s heart to freeze
Or dentist to delight.

More dreadful still, the angry Fall,
Like some huge monster seemed to call,
Impatient for its prey ;
And shows its breakers’ flashing teeth,
To welcome him to depths beneath ; —
And breathes its breath of spray.

Visions of fire and frying pan
Encompassed that bewildered man
(Tho’ watery fears oppressed)
And Shakspeare’s thought his bosom fills
“Better to bear our present ills
Than fly” — you know the rest.

Whether the Brave proved dainty fare,
And then the Fall devoured the bear,
Though unto them the “loss was sair”
To us is less ado :
But still, arrayed in fancy’s gleam,
Have floated down Tradition’s stream
The twain in that canoe —
And furnished to the faces pale,
The matter to “adorn a tale,”
And “point a moral,” too.

We float upon life’s lapsing tide
While toward some gulf the waters glide
With unremitting might ;
And some black bear holds us in awe,
Like the “black Care” which Horace saw
Behind the Roman knight.

We fain would seize an oar to reach
Some sylvan shore, some silvery beach ;
But still the moment miss —
For Pride, or Ease, or Care, or Fear,
Sits with o’erwhelming presence near ;
The saving hand we dare not lift,
And gently thus we drift, drift, drift,
Into the dread abyss.

Our land, which boasts that it prepares
Its morel and material wares,
Should make its legends, too :
And mixing one of native clay,
Let’s drop “a lion’s in the way,”
And in its stead hereafter say —
A bear’s in the canoe.”

Source: The Crayon, vol. 8, no. 7, July 1861.

Florio is possibly a pseudonym used by Clement Clarke Moore.  Two poems published in the New York Evening Post under the name of Florio later appeared in Moore’s 1844 book Poems, as outlined in the blog post Two Poems by Clement C. Moore, as First Published in the New York Evening Post


An Indian Cave at Ne-a-ga-ra by Evelyn M. Watson

Interior View of Milk Cave, Also Known as Buttermilk Cave, on the Niagara River. New York Power Authority. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Here is the place of lores,
Of heroes that never return,
The site of sagas and Mysteries
Of tales before old Histories
Of council-fires that burn
Hid from the pound of the waters where the
‡‡‡‡Cataract trembles and pours.

Here in the dusky quiet,
Cadenced with birds and tides —
Here in the forest’s circling mood
The sense of truth-in-solitude —
It’s here that legend hides —
And stones and forests and cliffs shut out the
‡‡‡‡world’s tumultous riot.

Only the echoes remain
Like the thought-of-a-thought —
Only the whisper of falls
Like the talk, (in their council walls
Of pine,) together brought,
Discussing their people’s strange plight with
‡‡‡‡Stoic indifference to pain.

Day-hours are lived in the strife
Night-hours are spent in the Essence,
Wildly the waters shall lave,
Silences seal the great cave —
Its fate is a lost evanescence,
(Oh, moment magnificent with thought of primitive life).

Source:  Evelyn M. Watson. Poems of the Niagara Frontier.  New York: Dean & Company, 1929.

See other poems by Watson

Flying Over Niagara Falls by Alex Jacobs and SAP by Janet Marie Rogers


Click on the picture to hear the audio file
Mohawk poets Janet Rogers and Alex Jacobs read love poems titled “His Sap” and “Flying Over Niagara Falls”. Studio recording produced by Janet Rogers and live recording by Alex Jacobs recorded in Vancouver British Columbia at the Talking Stick Festival with cello accompaniment by Cris Derksen. Its a Valentines collaborative poem?

Scroll down or click here to see SAP by Janet Marie Rogers

for Janet Marie

I have never been so consumed, so affected, so moved
so physically adored, adorned even
so worn like hat, a tight fitting hat,
so consumed, so consummated
we are flying, actually airborne…
making love above Niagara Falls
& it is like flying, boarding the aircraft
through a familiar structure, a familiar ritual
down a tunnel, approaching the light
you take in the periphery
you buckle in and read the safety manual
what to do in an emergency
you read whatever’s available, magazines about
Mayan temples, Calcutta spices
Grateful Dead sticker on a rock & roll wine
we are rolling, rolling, rolling
30 40 50 70 100 MPH
you hold on, there’s a bump
we all shift, squeaks, tugs
hidden music, chatter
you favour one side,
there’s a light, bright
and then gravity release
some kind of group sigh
shimmers through the passengers

we are surrounded by air on all sides

yoga masters in flight
hovering, bouncing
anti-gravity vibratory
near hallucinogenic, visions, voices
we could theoretically disappear
vibrating into
another dimension
another consciousness

This is where the Thunderers live
Where the Maid is in the Mist
Where Jigonsaseh (mother of Nations)
Gave birth to her village called Peace-town
Where she gave birth to clans and nations

Where women went over Niagara Falls
Announcing the new millennium
Only later did men attempt the free fall
In much sturdier, better designed craft
Safe, greedy, cowards
Asking for money… to fly

This is where Falling Woman came to earth
Where Flint & Sapling were born
Where I was reborn, was crucified,
Died and was reburied
Only to resurrect again and again and again
She is Flying Woman
She is Star Woman

She is Bear Woman
She is Medicine Woman
She is Healing Woman

A Turtle clan man can be a warrior too
Not just a farmer or an artist or a singer
He waits and waits
Focusing ninja movements
Using the opponents force to counter
Taking many blows to his shell
Once he grabs and bites you can not dislodge him
Until the sun sets…
The only time a turtle makes noise
Is when he mates or dies

We are at the edge of thunder
We are white light plasma
We become actually lightning
People hear us as thunder
See us as lightning
This is where the Thunderers live
In caves under Niagara Falls
Powerful ancient voices
Rumble like earthquakes, tremors,
Rock slides crashing into whirlpools

What would I do with you
Once I have you
I need to train you

You need repetition
Sun moon dark rain
Just like Niagara Falls
We are high up
Thousands of miles to the west
Laying among rain, drizzle, clouds
High up among Vancouver canyons
Sun moon mist rain
Where we can pause
Breath absorb each other
Pile up chaos in theory
Shine glisten vibrate
And make waves
Make waves all around us
And fly actually airborne
Then release and flow and surge
Sun Rain Mist Full Moon
What would you do with me
Once you have me

Santa Fe, March 2012
Vancouver, February 2013

SAP by Janet Marie Rogers

He served me
Tree sap
In a shot
I stretched
My neck
To get

He served me
Tree sap
In a shot
I stretched
My neck
To get

He served me
Tree sap
In a shot
I stretched
My neck
To get

He served me
Tree sap

In a shot
I stretched
My neck
To get

Source: The authors, 2021. First published on the Indian Country Today blog on February 14, 2014

Alex Jacobs’ website Alex Jacobs: Native American Art, Poetry & Culture, Blog & Audio

About Janet Marie Rogers

Apple: Skin to the Core: A Memoir in Words and Pictures by Eric Gansworth

Apple, a memoir in verse and pictures by Eric Gansworth is an important addition to the literature of Niagara. Gansworth,  who was raised on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation in Niagara County, New York, just outside Niagara Falls, still resides in the area and teaches in Buffalo, NY.  The book has been longlisted for the 2020 National Book Award and is a Junior Library Guild selection.

Publisher supplied book information:

How about a book that makes you barge into your boss’s office to read a page of poetry from? That you dream of? That every movie, song, book, moment that follows continues to evoke in some way?

The term “Apple” is a slur in Native communities across the country. It’s for someone supposedly “red on the outside, white on the inside.”

Eric Gansworth is telling his story in Apple: Skin to the Core. The story of his family, of Onondaga among Tuscaroras, of Native folks everywhere. From the horrible legacy of the government boarding schools, to a boy watching his siblings leave and return and leave again, to a young man fighting to be an artist who balances multiple worlds.

Eric shatters that slur and reclaims it in verse and prose and imagery that truly lives up to the word heartbreaking.

Run to your nearest library or book store to read this remarkable collection by Eric Gansworth.

Visit Eric Gansworth’s website