Psalm by Matt Donovan

Sam Patch, Daredevil, 1800–1829

Sam Patch Jumped to Fame and Death. Boston Sunday Globe, August 12, 1928

The trick was breathing in, you claimed, as if that was all
they gathered to watch as you milked the crowd in your matador sash,
rum-slurring some speech no one could hear above the river’s thunder,
quipping your catchphrase long worn threadbare: Some things
can be done as well as others. But most things don’t sputter back
even once, like that waterlogged schooner two autumns before,
lunging over Niagara as billed, loaded with its Strange Cargo
bison, two bears, a bonneted fox, raccoons, a wing-clipped eagle—
& disappearing into a wilderness of froth. Sam Patch, you dropped
arrow-straight, untethered from earth, for cash, for booze, a lay,
& yet here I am plundering your life for some path towards saying
in our water’s blind wrath, in the body from that roaring slosh
only a few times given back, despite nearly everything
we choose, somehow we are blessed. I might as well beg
for an ass-kick, I know. Scotch-soaked, fame-starved, cocksure,
you are long-dead, unbreakable until the river broke you too
& could stomach none of this. If it helps, forget the poem.
Forget I said anything before I turned to you—since today inexplicably
you’re all that will do—tottering sun-struck on the platform, preparing
to plummet into that luminous rage & whatever that might afford.