Under the Falls by James Penha

James Penha and His Husband, Ferdy, Shortly After Their Wedding Ceremony, on the Maid of the Mist Boat in Front of the American Falls
Image courtesy of James Penha


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.

Source: The author, 2022

Expat New Yorker James Penha (he/him🌈) has lived for the past three decades in Indonesia. Nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and poetry, his work is widely published in journals and anthologies. His newest chapbook of poems, American Daguerreotypes, is available for Kindle. His essays have appeared in The New York Daily News and The New York Times. Penha edits The New Verse News, an online journal of current-events poetry. Twitter: @JamesPenha

Ode to Niagara by Lansing V. Hall

Canada Southern Railway Train and Cars, American & Horseshoe Falls in Background
executed by the American Oleograph Co. Image Courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

MAJESTIC river, full of awe and wonder,
Roll onward in thy might, and roar like thunder ;
Bring from the upper lakes where the waters nap,
Thy burthens to this brink, and let ‘ em drap.
Roll onward in thy wrath, and foam and spatter ;
My bark is on dry land—that’s what’s the matter.
To pay for all this splurge, there’s a Lincoln cent,
I’ve dropped it in thy surge—so let it went !
If more thou still demand, there’s a Canada copper,
Large as a full-blown moon-put that in your hopper !
Methinks I feel a bug, and hear him hum ;
‘Tis only the “Maid of the Mist,” for passengers come.
I’ve climbed the weary stairs, the steps I’ve counted,
But wish now by the cars and ropes I’d mounted.
My coat is wet with spray, but my throat is dry ;
This scene is grand, they say, but it’s all in their eye.
I’ve heard of thee, Niagara, and now I’ve found thee ;
But sorry thou dost keep such robbers round thee.
The Yankees stole my purse, John Bull my hat,
And my last disputed stamp I paid to Pat.
So now I’ve nothing left, as I’m a sinner,
To recompense “mine host” for his dollar dinner.
But hold ! I have it now—there goes the bell !
I’ll sell my ode, I vow ! Old stream, farewell !
Should e’er we meet again, with case inverted,
I, tumbling toward the main, thou, dry and deserted,
I’ll wet thy husky throat till thou feelest staggery,
And I’ll sprinkle well thy coat. Farewell, Niagara !
Should e’er we meet again this side the ocean,
I’ll sing in loftier strain my deep devotion ;
I’ll praise thy gorgeous bow till my voice shall quiver.
But the steam is up—we go. Good-by, old river !
Good-by ! the echoes die with the cataract thunder,
While away like the wind we fly to a western wonder,
Where objects meet the sight too marvelous to tell,
Where cities grow up in a night. Fogies, farewell !
For the golden land I’m bound, where the trees reach heaven,
With trunks four miles around—diameter seven ;
Where grapes like pumpkins grow in every dell,
Where corn needs plow nor hoe. Reader, farewell !
And when I’ve reached the shore by the “Great Pacific,”
I’ll carve on the depot door this hieroglyphic ;
A sleeping car, marked “through,” ‘neath a huge balloon,
Myself among the crew, labeled, “the moon.”

Source: L.V. Hall. Voices of Nature. New York: John A. Gray & Green, Printers, 1868.

In his  Anthology and Bibliography of Niagara Falls, Charles Mason Dow writes “The author of this poem was blind. The “Ode” is evidently intended to be humorous, but the humor consists largely in slang and bad grammar.

Niagara Falls Postcard by Jennifer Rose

The American Niagara Falls
Undated postcard. The Bridal Veil Fall is to the right. Image courtesy of Niagara Falls Public Library

Greetings from the capital of love,
whose cataracts a punster might foretell.
Next time we come we’ll plan for a motel:
one afternoon is simply not enough.

Where other tourists see the Bridal Veil,
I watch the ghosts of buffalos herded off
a thousand cliffs by hunters. Gulls circle as if
they were white buzzards. They wait to no avail.

Sorry to be cynical, I buy
some souvenirs — small TV sets with slides of all
the sights in living color. The primal
screams are missing. The hunters had their alibi

but what is mine? Can I love a girl
afraid of every honeymoon’s cheap thrills,
like holding hands in public or acting like a fool?
Yours, of course, until Niagara Falls.

Source: Jennifer Rose. Hometime for an Hour: Poems. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2006

Read about Jennifer Rose

Read the article Poet Imparts a Sense of Place 

Public Aid for Niagara Falls by Morris Bishop

Tourist at Niagara Falls
Photo by used under Creative Commons Licence from PxHere

Upon the patch of earth that clings
‡‡Near the very brink of doom,
Where the frenzied water flings
‡‡Downward to a misty gloom,

Where the earth in terror quakes
‡‡And the water leaps in foam
Plunging, frantic from the Lakes,
‡‡Hurrying seaward, hurrying home,

Where Man’s little voice is vain,
‡‡And his heart chills in his breast
At the dreadful yell of pain
‡‡Of the waters seeking rest;

There I stood, and humbly scanned
‡‡The miracle that sense appalls,
And I watched the tourist stand
‡‡Spitting in Niagara Falls.

Source: Baker, Russell (ed.) The Norton Book of Light Verse. New York: Norton, 1986.

Originally published in Bishop, Morris. Spilt Milk. New York: Putnam, 1942

Read about Morris Bishop

Niagara by Naomi Shihab Nye

Maid of the Mist Near the American Side of Niagara Falls.
Photo by Chris McIntosh on Unsplash



Arriving early, before the lovers
have climbed up from their seastruck beds,
she stands where mist can penetrate
the way 7 a. m. changes the world—
softening, quickening little
hopes. She thought the Falls

were out in the country, not in a town.
To be wrong so many times, like finding the pyramids
adjacent to the Cairo bus stop,
or even herself alone in upstate New York
in the middle of a summer when she can imagine
pitching so many things overboard,
not a body in a barrel, not that,
but stacks of manuscripts, yellow stick-um notes,
even what she said yesterday,

into the surging megatons,
the burst of fabulous power that could light our lights
from here to Cincinnati or whatever the loudspeaker shouts
when she rides the boat that dips a herd of slickers
into the blinding white roar, the baptismal boat
where Japanese and Puerto Rican come up equally
wet. Despite the blurred narrative,
she won’t forget how she lifted her face into the spray.

Before leaving, she drives around
the Canadian side, entering the thrift mart,
dimestore, buying a jug of bilingual bubble bath—
then spins toward the bridge again, refreshed,
sparked by the electricity that accompanies
days marked by nothing but what we see,
as if after all our sober intentions and hard work,
the days that carry us could be these.

Source: Naomi Shihab Nye. Red Suitcase: Poems. Rochester, NY: BOA Editions, 1994

About Naomi Shihab Nye (from Red Suitcase):

Poet, teacher, essayist, anthologist, songwriter and singer, Naomi Shihab Nye is one of the country’s most acclaimed writers. Her voice is generous; her vision true; her subjects ordinary people, and ordinary situations which, when rendered through her language, become remarkable. In this, her fourth full collection of poetry, we see with new eyes-a grandmother’s scarf, an alarm clock, a man carrying his son on his shoulders.

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