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 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.

Nik Wallenda Walks a Wire Across Niagara Falls by Diana Cole

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



Into a theatre of wind and mist 
            a cable dips, disappears. 
He moves steadily, 
            each step shortening
                        the improbable.
                                    He dissolves into thunder.
The camera loses      then finds his face 
            soaked, focused 
                        on distance relenting.
In shoes his mother made 
            elk-skin suede
                        his feet curl along the wire. 
He tells the cameraman 
            his arms are numb.
                        Weighs the long pole
                                    in sighs, side to side.
And we can see 
            the waters waiting
                        the letting go
                                 the urge to.
He inches ahead
            each second of inertia 
                        a pinpoint 
                                    from which we too
                                                step forward.  

This poem was previously published in Muddy River Poetry Review. 

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

diana cole
Diana Cole

Diana Cole, a Pushcart Prize nominee, has published in numerous journals including Poetry East, Spillway, Main Street Rag, Cider Press Review, Friends Journal, The New Verse News and Orison Books. Her chapbook, Songs By Heart was published in 2018 by Iris Press and her latest book, Between Selves, in 2023 by Indian Press, Cyberwit.net. Recently, she was awarded 2nd place in the Notable Works 2024 Poetry Initiative.  She is a senior editor for The Crosswinds Poetry Journal



Brave Men by Doug Harris

Brave men – know the type – who have balls?
Drive stunt cars so fast and through walls…
Normally wear apparel
To protect, but a barrel?!
Are there any survived from these falls?

Source: Laroque, Corey. Here’s What the Poets are Saying. Niagara Falls, Ont.: Niagara Falls Review, November 21, 2009

This limerick was entered into the So You Think You Can Rhyme (2009) Limerick Contest to find Niagara Falls’ Poet Laureate

Go to the Limericks page

The Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch by Anonymous

[n.b. This is the Niagara section only]

Sam Patch Jumping at Niagara Falls
From The Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch, c1870

Next, to Niagara thousands flock,
To see him jump from Table Rock,
Into these waters, thunder-hurled,
The seventh wonder of the world.
Folks swarmed on bank and giddy ledge,
On dangerous precipice’s edge,
Nay, really, it has been said,
They stood one on the other’s head,
To get a view when gallant Sam,
Came cool (and modest as a clam),
Pausing upon the trembling verge
To list to what might prove his dirge!

The sun was red, the cliffs aglow,
And foaming white the gulf below,
As Sammy turned his fearless eye
From crowded earth to brilliant sky,
And boldly took the fearful leap
Down, down, into the seething deep!

Each breath was held, each eye was strained—
Huzzah! at last the bank he’s gained!
A shake, a gasp, his breath to catch—
“Now! who will laugh at Samuel Patch?”

‘T was there Sam made his greatest dive—
Feet—full one hundred and sixty-five!

Source: The Wonderful Leaps of Sam Patch. Rochester, NY: Len Rosenberg, Rochester Collection. Reproduction of a book originally published by Len Rosenberg in the 1870s.

Platform built at the base of Goat Island for Sam Patch’s Jump in 1829.
From Official Guide Niagara Falls, River. Electric, Historic, Geologic, Hydraulic by Peter A. Porter with illustrations by Charles D Arnold published 1901. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Sam Patch did not jump from Table Rock as mentioned in the poem and as shown in the illustration. in 1829 he constructed a 120 foot high platform at the base of Goat Island and jumped from there, as depicted in the illustration.

Read more about Sam Patch

Chernobyl by John Wall Barger

Annie Edson Taylor, Queen of the Mist, After Her Trip Over the Horseshoe Falls
Photo by M.H. Zahner
Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Annie Edson Taylor
first to survive Niagara Falls in a barrel
she is our heroine.
The Zone glitters like a mirage
an abandoned city
à la Tarkovsky’s Stalker
fizzing with radiation.
Taylor—praise her—sleepwalks
on the lawn of the soporific
hospital.  She blinks,
eyes yellow, shadowed
by the central chimney.
Is it a lighthouse in the desert?
The Zone wears her dream
like a gown.  The hospital
wears the rubble like a gown.
Taylor wears a long black dress
& a fruit hat.  Front stairs
of the hyperacute hospital,
Taylor coughs, on her knees.
How, you wonder,
did she get here?  Don’t ask me.
I wanted to write a poem
to exalt a nice thing.
Yet here she is, spasming,
spitting a dark thread.
“Stop!”  you say, “Don’t go in!”
Yet in she goes.
Her black dress slips off
& her fruit hat.  She is naked
walking the hallway
past rooms of box-spring beds.
Here is a room heaped
with clothes: firefighter boots,
gas masks. Sooty tables,
murky slime.  An arthritic tree
curls in a shattered window.
A box-spring so tiny
It could be a doll’s bed.
Taylor stops, bows low,
palms together, mumbling words
I can’t even hear.
I’m tempted to remind her
she died sixty-five years 
before Chernobyl.
But now she’s alert,
back straight, listening
with her whole body
for what? I beg her
to put on the fruit hat,
just for the end of the poem.
It’s not too late!
But she keeps tossing it
onto a pile
of melted toys.

Source: John Wall Barger.  The Mean Game. Windsor, Ont.: Palimpsest Press, 2019.

Visit the website of John Wall Barger 

Follow Barger on social media @johnwallbarger

Read about Annie Edson Taylor