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
In the yellow and blue dawn of winter
I will come for her
My misty apparition
who fogs my eyes and senses
and comforts me with her chilled
She knows my secret sins
She’s lived my life
“Come in,” says Niagara
“The water’s fine”
I know it’s not true, it’s freezing in December
Look up from the Horseshoe Falls
see the Rainbow Bridge, Goat Island, the gaudy signage
Look down upon the frigid rapids
My misty apparition
who fogs my eyes and senses
and I wonder how it will be
to know the caress
of my sometime true lover
as I lapse gently inside her
and ponder my new address
Slipping into her grasp
suicide and marriage are one
no cold, no fear
Source: The author, 2022. Of Sometime True Lovers was first published on All Poetry, 6/9/21, Written 10/31/98
Author’s note: While this appears to be about suicide in Niagara Falls, it’s really about what I owe to the city itself, the city that I grew up in and made me.
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.)”