POEM BY CYNTHIA ANDERSON
A Civil War widow at 25, her infant son dead,
Annie Edson Taylor faced the rest of her life
with gusto. She crossed the continent eight times,
became a dance instructor, took off with a friend
for Mexico — the details can only be imagined,
since she was a good Episcopalian and confessed
no sins — thank God, a substantial inheritance
bridged the gap between expenses and income.
She spared no cost at any juncture — and so,
near her 63rd birthday, found herself penniless,
lodged in a boarding house, relying on the charity
of relatives who begrudged every dime. Then
kismet struck like a 200-pound anvil —
why not be the first to ride Niagara Falls
in a barrel? Of course she would survive,
make a fortune on autographs and memorabilia,
travel the world again, heave ho! Full of bravado,
she hired a promoter, had the best barrel made,
and did it — though the physical shock shook her
to the core. Nobody ought ever to do that again,
she claimed. In a photo of her sitting alone at a table,
waiting for adoring hordes to shower her with gold,
she looks grim. Her manager stole her barrel.
She spent twenty more years a pauper before
meeting her maker. If not for her desperate
act, she would be entirely forgotten —
just another woman who ran out of options,
who was willing to die if she could not live
in the style to which she was accustomed.
The 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical
We are pleased to announce this piece as a Finalist for The 2016 Charter Oak Award for Best Historical, honoring the independent press’ best writing on themes of historical people, places, events, objects, or ideas. The winners are selected by an external panel that judges all pieces blindly and selects the full list of 12 finalists from hundreds of entries. Alternating Current does not determine the final outcome for the judging; the external judges’ decisions are final.
CYNTHIA ANDERSON lives in the Mojave Desert near Joshua Tree National Park. Her poems have appeared in journals such as Askew, Dark Matter, Apercus Quarterly, Whale Road, Knot Magazine, and Origami Poems Project. She is the author of six collections — In the Mojave, Desert Dweller, Mythic Rockscapes/ Barker Dam, Mythic Rockscapes/ Hidden Valley, and Shared Visions I and II. She frequently collaborates with her husband, photographer Bill Dahl. Cynthia co-edited the anthology A Bird Black as the Sun: California Poets on Crows & Ravens.
Find out more about Annie Edson Taylor, the subject of this poem, HERE. Today would be her 178th birthday.