Of Sometime True Lovers by Doug Smith

sometime
Horseshoe Falls in Winter. Photo by Heather Rodman
Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

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
wet kiss

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
Home…

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
just nostalgia


 

Source: The author, 2022. Of Sometime True Lovers was first published on All Poetry6/9/21, 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.

See Doug Smith ’s All Poetry site (Darknightofthesoul)

Doug Smith is a former Niagara Falls, NY resident

 

Epiphanies on the First Cold Day by Robert Billings

billings
The cover of Before the Heart Went Down by Robert Billings

1
I thought there was nothing in the fields of light
that was not there in darkness

After breakfast in a quiet house
surrounded by pastures of new frost
my heart crouches believing
the next sound will be
something it can sing

2
This is my persistent nightmare

I jump into a shallow river
Hy feet sink in mud
to mid-calf, the top
of my head
just breaks the surface

It’s November:
too soon for ice
to preserve me

At noon I warm my hands at the apples
ripening on a window sill

3
The smell of cold through an open window

On the corner of my desk
is a print of a mother-goddess
in a black plastic frame:

Syria
Third century B.C.

The guide-book defines
Civilization
means living together

Sometimes a glancing blow
is the back of my wife’s hand
slowly down my thigh

4
And so it comes back to this

In Munich 1974
a man in a bar
said a cormorant
dropping from a cliff
is the soul of
whatever flung this
earth on the sea

Midnight on the highway through Perth County
wearing sunglasses against the headlights
I bite through the cold skin of an apple


Source: Waves vol 11, no 2 & 3, Winter 1983

Robert Billings, born in Niagara Falls, Ontario, and raised Fort Erie, became well known in Canadian literary circles as a poet, critic, teacher,  and editor of Poetry Canada Review and Poetry Toronto.  In 1983 he penned the poem “Epiphanies of the First Cold Day.” Epiphany 2 foreshadowed his eventual fate. In 1986 after his marriage broke down and bouts of depression hit him, he threw himself into the Niagara River. His body was not recovered until six months later.

Fellow poet and editor Herb Barrett paid tribute to Billings in his poem For Robert Billings

Watch the video At the Brink: A Personal Look at Suicides Over Niagara Falls by Michael Clarkson. Clarkson was a long-time friend of Robert Billings, who is one of the people discussed in the video.

For Robert Billings by Herb Barrett

barrett
The Niagara Gorge, c1900.
Image courtesy of the Library of Congress

 

FOR ROBERT BILLINGS
whose body was recovered
from the Niagara Gorge

Some things leave us speechless
‡‡‡‡‡fear of the unknown
‡‡‡‡‡confronting death
‡‡‡‡‡falling in & out of love
‡‡‡‡‡trouble so acute
‡‡‡‡‡we feel strapped
‡‡‡‡‡in a strait jacket
‡‡‡‡‡abandoned
‡‡‡‡‡with no road back
‡‡‡‡‡no forward
‡‡‡‡‡mute as a sacrifice
‡‡‡‡‡waiting to be rendered

‡‡‡‡‡here
‡‡‡‡‡was beauty created
‡‡‡‡‡poems spun
‡‡‡‡‡like tapestries
‡‡‡‡‡to enhance
‡‡‡‡‡the bleak corners
‡‡‡‡‡of existence

‡‡‡‡‡underneath
‡‡‡‡‡some dark corrosive
‡‡‡‡‡ate at the spirit
‡‡‡‡‡the eclectic rocket
‡‡‡‡‡somewhere misfired

‡‡‡‡‡who can judge
‡‡‡‡‡the why
‡‡‡‡‡the day
‡‡‡‡‡desolate as famine
‡‡‡‡‡that drove you
‡‡‡‡‡to the brink
‡‡‡‡‡lonely as a last moment
‡‡‡‡‡your body engulfed
‡‡‡‡‡by roaring mist…

‡‡‡‡‡the cruel rocks
‡‡‡‡‡keep their secret
‡‡‡‡‡where a cry ends
‡‡‡‡‡and silence begins


Source:  Canadian Author & Bookman, Vol. 63, no.3, Spring 1988

Robert Billings, a Niagara Falls, Ontario, native, became well known in Canadian literary circles as a poet, critic, teacher,  and editor of Poetry Canada Review and Poetry Toronto.  In 1983 he penned the poem “Epiphanies of the First Cold Day.”  Epiphany 2 reads in part:

This is my persistent nightmare:
I jump into a shallow river
My feet sink in mud to mid-calf, the top of my head just breaks the surface
It’s November
Too soon for the ice to preserve me.

In Waves, vol. 11, issue 2/3, winter 1983

In 1986 after his marriage broke down and bouts of depression hit him, he threw himself into the Niagara River. His body was not recovered until six months later.

Read “Epiphanies of the First Cold Day” here


Herb Barrett (c1912-1995) was a poet who first published in the Hamilton Spectator in the 1930s, helped found the Canadian Poetry Association, and was a long-time poetry magazine editor.  The Haiku Foundation named The Herb Barrett Award after him.

Suicide Note by Walter Haywood

haywood
Niagara Falls From a Glass Transparency by Detroit Publishing Company, c. 1890. Courtesy of the Library of Congress

Here poor, unfortunate Haywood lies;
Nobody laughs, nobody cries;
Where he’s gone and how he fares
Nobody knows and nobody cares.


Source: T.W. Kriner. In the Mad Water: Two Centuries of Adventure and Lunacy at Niagara Falls.  Buffalo: J & J Publishing, 1999

Haywood jumped over Niagara Falls on September 10, 1891, and his body was never recovered. The above poem was found in a suicide letter addressed to Haywood’s friend Charles D. Nichols, as published in In the Mad Water:

Friend Charlie —

By the time you get this letter I shall be no more. You must, of course, know that I have run behind a Salamanca. In fact, I have not been able to make expenses since I went there. You see, old man, I had to wait there more than three weeks for goods, and, of course, it put me behind a good deal. And now that I realize how much I am in debt to B. & L. I see no way for me to make the same good, and I can’t and won’t face the disgrace of a defaulter.

I have come here with the deliberate intention of committing suicide, and I have a ticket in my pocket now for Niagara Falls. I leave here at 12 o’clock and will go over the falls as soon as I get there. I made a great mistake, Charlie, when I went to work for Baker; it was all out of my line, and now that the end has come and I see nothing but disgrace staring me in the face, I would suffer a thousand deaths before I would be sent up as a thief. I never intended to do wrong, but circumstances were against me, and I am now going to pay for the same with my life. Some, of course, will say that I am crazy, but you know better than that. I am just as cool and collected now as I ever was in my life. I owe Louis some $12.00, but he has plenty of goods in his charge and will no doubt look out for himself. I don’t know how much I am behind with B. & L., but it must be about $35.00.

Well, old man, don’t think worse of me than you can help, for I never meant to do what I have, and I guess I am my own worse enemy. You will, of course. see from the papers that I have done as I have stated, but I thought I would write to you anyway, as you alone can understand why I should take my life, And now, my friend, good bye.

If my body is found I think the following verse would be very appropriate.

Here poor, unfortunate Haywood lies;
Nobody laughs, nobody cries;
Where he’s gone and how he fares
Nobody knows and nobody cares.

Yours sincerely,

Walter Haywood
Buffalo, Sept. 10, 1891

burgoyne bridge by atlantic

burgoyne

we were not meant
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡to take Flight
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡in such a manner

a brief act
‡‡‡‡‡‡of desperation
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡will cause lasting wounds
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡that can never heal

please

‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡stay grounded



Source: the author, 2019

Burgoyne Bridge was infamous as a place to commit suicide, as it crossed high over the Twelve Mile Creek. Suicide barriers were installed when the Burgoyne Bridge was replaced in 2016.

atlantic was born and raised in Niagara Falls, where he still resides. A selection of his work is available on Instagram

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