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Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Reaching Through Time by Tara Hempstead

OBJECT: Robot Hand

BODY OF WATER: Great Kills State Park

 

EXT. ATLANTIC OCEAN-SUNSET

A large passenger liner slices through the waves of the Atlantic.  New York’s skyline as it appeared in the 1920’s disappears into the horizon.  

                                                                                                                                               CUT TO:
INT. SHIP’S DINING ROOM- NIGHT

ORCHESTRA MEMBERS TUNE and REHEARSE amongst themselves at the end of the dining room as a CROWD in eveningwear enters.

A FLUTE MELODY rises above the beautiful, disjointed sounds of the orchestra and soars across the dining room. PATRONS gradually separate from the CROWD to their dining tables, where WAITERS greet them with teacarts.  The sounds of PATRONS CHATTING and the CLINK of chinaware grow louder as PATRONS settle into the space.

The PRINCIPAL CELLIST and CONCERTMASTER nod to each other and stop playing.  Following suit, the ORCHESTRA falls silent and straightens their spines.

PATRON 1, who has a cup of tea pressed to his lips, becomes self-conscious and gingerly sets the tea on its saucer and onto the table.

PATRON 2 and 3, a couple, inch their bodies closer to each other in anticipation.

The ORCHESTRA stands as the CONDUCTOR appears on the stage. PATRONS watch as the CONDUCTOR steps onto the podium center stage and turns to face them.

He bows.  AUDIENCE, roused from their reverent silence, bursts into APPLAUSE.

The CONDUCTOR scans the ORCHESTRA through his wide glasses as they take their seats.  His lip turns upward to suggest a smile.  The room is at his mercy as he waits for an intangible sign to begin.

EVERYONE inhales as the CONDUCTOR raises his arms. There, holding the baton, his hand glitters, reflecting the light overhead.  The hand is not made of skin, but of metal and bolts.  

PATRONS breathe out as the CONDUCTOR dips his bionic hand and the MUSIC begins.  The MUSIC emanates such sweetness that PATRONS can’t help but sway, buoyed by each tender moment.

A VIOLINIST sitting near the middle of the ensemble fastens his gaze onto the CONDUCTOR, moving through each note as if it came from his soul.

The CONDUCTOR seems to look past the VIOLINIST every time.  The VIOLINIST’S fingers maintain a certain delicacy, but his gaze turns into a piercing glare.

The CONDUCTOR’S hands begin to tremble, and the ORCHESTRA slowly grows louder. VIOLINIST grunts as CONDUCTOR raises his arms higher. The TRUMPET PLAYERS lift their bells as the ORCHESTRA reaches the pique of the crescendo.

The CONDUCTOR beams as the ORCHESTRA triumphs at the climax of piece.  VIOLINIST closes his eyes in rage and buries himself in the music.

The ORCHESTRA strikes its final chord and the CONDUCTOR claws the air, as if to catch the piece in his hand.  He is frozen with his robotic hand clenching the baton above his head as the chord vibrates through the hall.

His hands fall to his sides, and the AUDIENCE rises to its feet, adorning the performance with thunderous praise.

                                                                                                                                               CUT TO:
INT. CONDUCTOR’S STATEROOM- EVENING

The CONDUCTOR trudges into his stateroom brimming with uneven stacks of music scores. His footsteps can barely be heard in the thick carpet, and his ears RING in the silence.

He removes his robot hand with a grunt and sets it on a piece of folded cloth on his desk.

He melts into the chair at his desk and rubs his temple. He blinks at the portal window, watching the noiseless waves.

There is a KNOCK at his door.

The room slips back into silence.

There is another KNOCK, this time, louder.

CONDUCTOR rises and crosses the room.  When he opens the door, VIOLINIST storms into his room.

VIOLINIST squares off with the CONDUCTOR, who’s still clutching the door open.  VIOLINIST’S eyes travel from the CONDUCTOR’S surprised face to his handless arm. He squints.

VIOLINIST
(Nods)
Maestro.

CONDUCTOR twists the lock into the doorframe.  The door hits the interfering lock with a CLUNK.

CONDUCTOR
(stepping toward Violinist)
Good evening.  Is there any trouble?

VIOLINIST frowns.

VIOLINIST
I’ve played under your baton for years. (Twisted smile) Surely you’ve at least noticed that?

CONDUCTOR
Yes. I remember your first rehearsal.

 

VIOLINIST
(giggling)
Yes, I bet.  In many ways, it’s like I’m still there.

CONDUCTOR
How so?

VIOLINIST
You see, I’m still in the same seat I started in.  Haven’t moved, haven’t gotten any better. But all of my peers have passed me by.

CONDUCTOR looks away from VIOLINIST and steps away from the doorframe. 

CONDUCTOR
I see.  

VIOLINIST
(suddenly stern)
Surely there’s a reason I’ve been overlooked all these years.

VIOLINIST starts circling the CONDUCTOR toward the desk with his hands in his suit pockets.

VIOLINIST
I work harder than any player here.  I would say that’s plain to see, but- well- that’s our predicament, isn’t it? I want to move forward- yes- be recognized. Finally. (Stopping at corner of desk) But, you’ve heard this all before, I’m sure.  And you don’t have an investment in a seemingly replaceable player like me.

VIOLINIST SIGHS, dropping his chin.  He sees the robotic hand on the desk.  He perks up.

VIOLINIST
Or maybe you do?

CONDUCTOR opens his mouth to say something and takes a step forward.

VIOLINIST gingerly plucks the robot hand from its resting place. Amused, he points a finger on robot hand and wags it at the CONDUCTOR.

VIOLINIST
Nuh-uh.

CONDUCTOR halts.

VIOLINIST LAUGHS and lunges.  The CONDUCTOR steps back in alarm.  VIOLINIST shoves the hand into his pocket and runs.

INT. HALLWAY- SECONDS LATER

CONDUCTOR stumbles into the hall as the VIOLINIST disappears around the corner.  

EXT. SHIP DECK- NIGHT

CONDUCTOR crosses the threshold into the night.  VIOLINIST stands near the rail at the edge of the ship, perfectly still as he battles with himself, searching CONDUCTOR’S face for an answer. VIOLINIST clutches robot hand to his chest.

CONDUCTOR stops, powerless for the first time.

CONDUCTOR
Please—

VIOLINIST
You won’t get any better.

VIOLINIST winds his arm back and throws the hand into the ocean.

CONDUCTOR runs to the railing and looks overboard. VIOLINIST grimaces and walks away. THE CONDUCTOR is met with a pool of darkness.

                                                                                                                                               CUT TO:
EXT. STATEN ISLAND NEIGHBORHOOD- PRESENT DAY

Dawn breaks over a row of antiquated single-family homes in Great Kills.

INT. BEDROOM-SUNRISE

A flashlight illuminates a desk with homemade musical instruments- an inventor’s workspace. A GIRL’S shadow is projected onto the chipping floral wallpaper of the old home.

GIRL, about ten years old, hunches into the flashlight’s glow.  Her hair is messy and her eyes are as wide as the bags under her eyes.  There’s an empty box of animal crackers nearby.  It looks like she has not moved all night.

She plucks a string on the instrument inches from her face and it RESONATES.  She grins.

Footsteps ECHO in the hall.  

There’s a KNOCK at GIRL’S bedroom door, which she has no time to answer before her MOTHER enters.

GIRL turns around and looks at her MOTHER in shock.  MOTHER takes one glance at her daughter framed by her inventions in the flashlight’s dome.  

MOTHER
(unsurprised)
Were you up all night again?

GIRL pretends to notice her workspace for the first time.

MOTHER
(laughs)
Right.

She crosses the room and throws the shutter shade back.

GIRL squints.  When her eyes have adjusted, she leans toward the window and looks down the block.

MOTHER
It’s Saturday.  Were you gonna go back to the park?

GIRL turns to her mother with a reassuring smile.

MOTHER
See, I know you!  I need to do some work today, so you’ll have to go by yourself this time.  Is that okay?

GIRL confidently climbs off chair and adjusts her bathrobe.


GIRL
Yeah! I got it!

                                                                                                                                               CUT TO:

EXT. NEIGHBORHOOD- LATER THAT MORNING

GIRL rushes out of the house and down the street

EXT. STRIP- MORNING

GIRL passes a row of storefronts, skidding to a halt in front of the music store to look at the violin in the window display.

After a few seconds, she adjusts the bag on her shoulder with resolve and continues running along the path.

EXT. GREAT KILLS PARK BEACH- DAY

GIRL kicks off her shoes at the edge of the sand and scoops them up.  The breeze HOWLS in her ears as she looks over the beach.  She steps forward, crossing into a peaceful place.

EXT. GREAT KILLS PARK BEACH- LATER

GIRL sits near a patch of green with her eyes closed, hearing COMPOSITIONS in her mind.  

She hears BEACHGOER’S VOICES as they pass, as well as the OSPREY CALLS and whisper of the rolling waves.  Each seems like a soloist as they move through her piece.

She opens her eyes, entranced by the BEACHGOERS. In the distance, CHILDREN SQUEAL and SPLASH in the water.  

TEENAGE GIRL passes with BOYFRIEND, carrying a bucket of shells.  The shells CLINK as she rummages through them.

After they pass, GIRL notices she is alone.  She reclines.

A metal object pokes out of the sand next to her head.  Noticing this out of the corner of her eye, she SCREAMS and shoots back up, sand flying.

The object doesn’t move.  She leans forward and the object reflects a ray of sunlight onto her face.

She brushes the sand away to reveal the CONDUCTOR’S robotic hand. Now, it is mostly dull and missing some fingers, but it is the most fantastic thing GIRL has ever seen.

She brings the hand close to her face.  Her eyes grow wide.

She slowly looks down at her other arm.  For the first time, we see she does not have a right hand.  She measures the hand against the end of her right arm.

GIRL GASPS.  She hops to her feet and runs off the beach.

                                                                                                                                               CUT TO:
EXT. STRIP- DAY

Running in the opposite direction as before, she passes the music store, grinning as she catches a glimpse of all the instruments in the window.

INT. BEDROOM- EVENING

GIRL, wearing the robotic hand, brings her arm up to her face and bites the excess banding on the mechanism she constructed to secure the robotic hand to her arm. 

As the banding drops to the floor, she extends her right arm in front of her and turns it to marvel at the hand from all angles.  She added extremities made from household materials to where they had been missing earlier, and the failed prototypes sit scattered across her desk. 

She uses her other hand to bend the robotic hand’s fingers around a pencil, which she pulled from the failed finger pile.

Satisfied, she glances at one of her music inventions standing nearby.

She reaches over and plucks the string on it. The string VIBRATES, and she glances upward as if she can see the sound rise.

                                                                                                                                               CUT TO:
INT. MUSIC STORE- THE NEXT MORNING

The bell above the door JINGLES as GIRL crosses the threshold.  Her new right hand is stuffed deep in her coat pocket.

She wanders the showroom, glancing up at the towering shelves of instruments.  A LUTHIER glances up from a violin he is repairing at his tall desk.

LUTHIER
(from desk)
What can I help you with?

GIRL jumps.

GIRL
I would like to try some violins.

LUTHIER
What kind of sound ar’ya lookin’ for?

GIRL
I dunno… I’ve never played before.  
(Confidently) But I want to learn!

LUTHIER
Well, I’m no teacher, but this is always a good place to start.

INT. SHOWROOM- LATER

LUTHIER supports the violin on GIRL’S shoulder as she presses the side of her face into the chin rest.

LUTHIER
Okay, hold it right there.

GIRL blinks at him as he steps back.  He examines the GIRL with the violin awkwardly protruding from her shoulder, standing stiffly because she’s too nervous to move.

LUTHIER nods, with a slight smile.

GIRL beams and rocks on her heels.  LUTHIER picks a bow from the collection he’s laid out on the table.

LUTHIER
Now, the bow is just as important as the violin.

GIRL watches with wonder as the delicate bow comes into focus before her. He kneels at her side to position the bow, and she lifts her arm enough for her sleeve to pull back. He stops when he sees her robot hand.

LUTHIER
Fascinating.

GIRL
(flexing hand)
I found it.

LUTHIER whistles.

GIRL
Do you think I can play with it?

LUTHIER, still kneeling with bow in his hand, looks up at her with warmth.  

LUTHIER
You wouldn’t be the first.

INT. BEDROOM- A FEW YEARS LATER

MUSIC fills the room as GIRL PLAYS the violin masterfully.  She abruptly sets her instrument down and picks up a pencil.

She leans into her music stand and scribbles music notes onto staff paper.  She HUMS the passage to herself then picks her violin up again and PLAYS the piece in its entirety.

It sounds similar to her beach compositions from years before, only more expansive in its emotion and the control she exhibits over her instrument.

She flings her bow off the string at the piece’s end.

                                                                                                                                               CUT TO:
INT. CARNEGIE HALL- YEARS LATER

LARGE ORCHESTRA REHEARSES as AUDIENCE shuffles to their seats.


CUT to GIRL sitting slightly off center from where VIOLINIST sat earlier, warming up and watching AUDIENCE settle into their seats in high spirits.

The lights dim and the AUDIENCE turns quiet.  CONDUCTOR takes the stage and the ORCHESTRA stands as the hall surges with APPLAUSE.  GIRL looks excited as he steps onto the podium.

As before, he bows to the AUDIENCE, but this time motions for FOUR SOLOISTS to join him. They file onto the stage, each holding one of the GIRL’S inventions.  She grins as they bow.

The FOUR SOLOISTS nod to CONDUCTOR that they are ready.

CONDUCTOR turns to ORCHESTRA and lifts his arms, baton pinched in a chrome hand. ORCHESTRA raises their instruments as one in response.  GIRL puts her violin on her shoulder and sets the bow on the string at the frog, robot hand framing her face.

CONDUCTOR and GIRL make eye contact.  She nods slightly.  He grins and thrusts his arms up higher still.  When he drops them for the downbeat, they start the piece.

End.


Tara Hempstead is a writer, violinist, and multimedia artist based in Brooklyn.  Her writing often builds on her background in music, which began fourteen years ago when she signed up for orchestra to get out of class.

She studied TV and film production in her native Florida, where a number of her comedy and drama scripts were produced.  Find more about her writing, music, and art at tarahempstead.com and follow her on Instagram (@popt_art.)

“Some Words...” by Sarah Passino

BODY OF WATER: East River

excerpts from “Some Words From 40-Some Days Before the Eclipse Translating Lorca’s Danza de la Muerte By Writing It In Rice Flour Around 40 Wall Street Like A Crab Or Like a Whale But For Sure For the Ants & For Sure For a Sum of the _Waste_”

 

//

thirteenth day

a loom
a rag
a rug

the sky
a skydyed
blue theres

always a ticket
says the man
taking tickets

 

 

 

//

eighteenth day

today it is 92 degrees
the long line for the rockaways
a woman says the city

takes seats from trains
to put on these boats & i know it
i know accountants back in my office

in the middle of america i had
a picture of the formula for capital
tacked up on the wall next to the

lightswitch & all day i drew data
maps on the walls in felt tip
of sons of mechanics

sons of farmers sons of army
down long low certificate
hallways past zinnia past red

mulch to gap factory back
the school & up to cricket front
circle circuit on the bottom

of each map i wrote what everyone
says who knows capitals not capital
in your pocket
so map so fable

so see it move from my window i
think the green lawn would look so
nice if we let grass grow long brown

 

 

 

//

nineteenth day

heat & no shade & no trees
& the street looks upside down
women wear floral shirts

a man hands me a one dollar bill
& both my shoes have holes in the sole
overdressed on south street

underdressed by front i walk up
the eight blocks south to front to water
to pearl to hanover to william to broad

to new to broadway to trinity trinity
is a church like a church is a king
soot refers to soot this town

was built wait slaves built this town
trinity owns this town & any whale
that washes up to 14th street but 14th

street keeps washing up slaves
built this street just below the land
of the blacks untribed by wall

or wolf free but for the wall
& the wolf i look at my uncles
cherokee feather want to ask

do we have some black blood do
we have indian blood but i know
the answer get home google 

sandals then womens cutest
sandals then cutest sexiest
sandals summer 17
& fall asleep

 

 

 

//

twentieth day

i wake up in the middle of the night
& look out & see B working still
on the couch say sorry I thought  

your foot was a goose & fall
back asleep which i don’t remember
til he tells me in the morning

laughing on his way in the shower
i fry eggs crack rind watermelon write

ants see ants/ whale sea whale/ ants see whale

on scraps of paper & read it to him
through the bathroom door he trades
one year for 150000 dollars & i stay

making breakfast read him scraps
of poems & tonight i walk from wall
street to the hudson where a poet 

tells me the constraint is where
the ecstatic come from
& i remember
J telling me about that poem thats just

a list of names z is a rich poet y is a rich poet x
is a rich poet
& at home livings the constraint
but here           maybe i just cant see them yet

a german poet tells me writing in english
is her constraint and i wonder where she
got her earrings & if i wrote in other

languages would i be able to write about
more beautiful things battery park is full up of
fireflies & men with clipboards looking up

from artillery to tops of buildings scraping
that sky tonight that all look like jewel boxes &
the breeze is so nice & i can see from one scale

to the other from here remember the night
at home fireflies synchronize their firefly
lights & how big all of us get how limitless

for a flash & at rest & loose & solvent

 

 

 

//

twenty-fourth day

the water is rough
& mystics is just another
way to say famous

what did lorca know about
a man turned to thing of waste
A blasts out from blackallacia

yo this is what it looks like wipipo
when you throw your people away

& in brooklyn ten of us on a roof

worth all together in dollars
a hundred million dollars
& drinking smokey mezcal

one as a boy watched a french painter
paint his silk walls & who would not know
that now he decides things with money

one makes 40000 in dollars for one night
to take one picture to post so far my lorca

The pepper trees up and died
taking their light-lit little berries
Camels, flesh-lashed, left too
and the cob swan lifts the white sky in his beak

It was a time for brittle things
the firefox-scratched eye, the laminated cat
the decayed iron of the great bridges
and the perfect silence because cork

in white ink unless this is printed on black
paper then it is my Lorca in black & since
it cant come through i can say it plain

the water is rough today theres no away
away today all the jokes are in red
& of course in due course all comes back

 


Sarah Passino is a Nashville poet living in Brooklyn. Recently, her work has appeared in Broome Street Review, Poetry Daily, and The Hopkins Review and was awarded the Rachel Wetzsteon Poetry Prize for the 92nd Street Y. She writes occasional Tiny Letters about writing days, bread committees, and what love looks like in public. She has worked as a professor, an organizer, and currently works as an editor. She is on instagram @Small Takes.

 

 

 

As If Waiting to be Set: the Whirling Lost Objects, in Space by Rebecca Pyle

OBJECT: Formica Dinette

BODY OF WATER: East River

There is a Formica dinette in the East River
Manhattan
Sitting upright
As if waiting to be
Set. 

Right off 16th Street.

But carry me to the logic
Of the table:  it is the compass
Whether it is square, or round, or oblong
Or patterned with fake pearl or wild mica bits
Making it here, everywhere, like
Flattened sheared gem.

Set the hands, like the long ends of mustache
Working their way all over the table-clock
Clock, celebrating the earth-and-ground-glory of the train:
The locomotive the steam engine headed anywhere to the
Railmen’s tune:  Greenwich Mean Time.

All the train-men always checking their watches; they’ve
Systemized the world.  Dinner’s on time, so’s surly breakfast,
So’s travel. 
Forget the sun making its dimple biscuit somewhere or
The moon larding us with its cold-plate oyster-cream;
Pity the sun and
Moon, they’re the whirled or whirling lost objects
In space.

We have math, we have time.

Oh, we had time. 


Rebecca Pyle graduated from the university beloved by the Wizard of Oz, the University of Kansas, where she very long ago won the Edna Osborne Whitcombe, Edgar Wolfe, and William Herbert Carruth writing awards:  three first prizes.  Thank you, Mr. Oz.  Her work appears lately---as poetry, short stories, or paintings---in Constellations, Stoneboat, Wisconsin Review, New England Review, Hawai’i Review, Indian Review, and Raven Chronicles Journal, among others.  Her art website is rebeccapyleartist.com; she lives in Salt Lake City, Utah---the Great Salt Lake visible, not too distant.

The Fact That it Can Do This Without Falling Apart by Tia Anae

OBJECT: Rubik's Cube

BODY OF WATER: Hudson River

The evening skyline in late August looks cold from the High Line, but it’s 75 degrees with humidity. People are up here with me—the 22-year-old west coast naïf—but I’m the only one around watching the black sky and blacker water. A loud someone takes a photo to my right and the flash lingers, icy and white, when they walk away. I stand at the railing, pretending to look native, despite my backpack, and not clueless, despite the Google map I’ve got queued up on the phone in my pocket. I’m short a dad double-fisting a hot dog and a Big Bus brochure—which is my actual dad right now in our Times Square hotel.

I didn’t know until eavesdropping on a tour that this place is called the High Line, and I found it by following the water. I walked from Greenwich Village through I think the Meatpacking District then down a side street. In new places, I’m almost always geographically stupid, and here is no exception. In my solo ambling, I forgot New York had rivers, or honestly, water. So coming from California—a place well known for its water (and more recently its lack of it)—when I saw what I didn’t know until later was the Hudson, instinct reeled me in.

Another thing I didn’t know until later is that about three summers ago, a giant Rubik’s Cube sailed down this Hudson River for its 40th anniversary and its creator’s 70th birthday. Architecture professor Erno Rubik, who invented the cube to teach 3D movement, created an object that didn’t disassemble when it twisted and turned. Originally it was named for this phenomenon: the Magic Cube.

Walking along the High Line, I’m interested in the lookouts that line the path and face the river. I stop at one, a blue metal table and matching chair. Perched awkwardly near the middle of the pathway, under this low concrete archway, they’re inviting in a somber way. I sit there for the view of the water, which is not much of a view because of the arch, but I can see the white and yellow city lights twitching and poking out of the black sky. I don’t sit in this spot long because I soon feel in the way. A herd of people drifts by. Like a boulder in a current, I’m by no means a barrier—they slip around and past me after all—but I feel obtrusive. Too aware of my singularity here, I stand up and keep walking. And anyway, that’s how they do it here. No one stops.

Well, but I do. Two minutes later, I turn right and stop again at another railing to watch the water from a different angle. From here, I can see on the water’s surface the reflection of the W Hotel’s red ‘W,’ big and ostentatious across the river. The red light has lost its shape in the water and moves like crimson oil in the ripples. The surrounding water is deeply black against the skyline’s halation.

It’s almost ridiculous now to think of a massive toy floating downstream here. Maybe it’s the nighttime, or something high brow I’m sensing about this well-groomed High Line, but New York—while home to eccentricity, no doubt—seems severe; severe in a way that could call an icon ersatz or shrug off avant-garde as camp. A Rubik’s Cube on the Hudson sounded like Lady Liberty on ice. After all, the cube itself looks, despite its complex mechanics, elementary. And apparently this was intentional. When designing it, Erno Rubik needed a type of coding to orient the cube’s rotations. The simplest and strongest answer, he said, was color. So he assigned one to each of its six sides. The cube’s a black skeleton covered in color—blue, green, white, yellow, orange, and red—making it a kind of a geometric circus box. Maybe it’s fitting then that the giant Rubik’s Cube that floated down the Hudson River was inflatable. The ballooning that typically makes recreational air-filled things hard to take seriously actually made the scrambled cube immobile, and thus unsolvable. New York seems too smart to have missed this.

A couple joins me on the railing, so close to me that I try to slide away in that subtle polite way we’re taught to give space to people who didn’t ask for it. I’m out of railing though—we’re sandwiched between beds of greenery—so I turn away and rest my elbow on the rail’s edge. Watching the water this way is a neck cramp, so I look to the right and see a sculpture among the plants. I leave the railing for a better view; the sculpture is white and wraith-like in the evening backlight. Growing out of the black dirt in a line are four structures that look to me like melting steamboat cylinders. The plaque below tells me this is an abstraction of a hand called Amulet II, part of a multi-artist exhibition called Mutations. The High Line Art website tells me Mutations examines “how the boundaries between the natural world and culture are defined, crossed, and obliterated” and asks, “as technology becomes more invisible and genetic engineering more conceivable, how do the delineations between nature and culture shift and transform?” A woman in an orange cardigan moves to stand between the sculpture and me. I side-step her and twist through an oncoming wave of humans.

***

The Rubik’s Cube is made of 20 small cubes called “cubies”—12 edge pieces and 8 corner pieces—and a 6-bolt rotating core. Speedcubers, competitive Rubik’s Cube solvers, advise beginners to think of the whole cube in terms of these smaller cubies, rather than the stickers on each edge. They refer to memorized solution sequences as algorithms, which in math speak are instructions for arriving at a final state through successive, defined states. Some steps in the sequence affect others, some don’t—some have side effects, some are solo shifters with delayed realignment. There are 43 quintillion ways to scramble a Rubik’s Cube; if you had one cube for every permutation and laid them end-to-end, they would stretch 261 light years or cover the earth in 273 layers.

By now I’ve left the sculpture and found a chessboard, an art installation called chess: relatives. It’s an interactive piece and you play the game by replacing the chess pieces with people, who represent different family members. The board is white with 64 squares, each with the word “white” or “black” written on them. Standing beside it, I read that the artist, Darren Bader, “bridges absurdity and sincerity, resulting in humorous, tongue-in-cheek works that question how certain things—objects, events, thoughts, or concepts—come to be honored as art objects.” Given my conditioned fear of scolding for touching artwork, I don’t want to know the consequences of stepping on it. I make a point of walking around the board to get back to the path.

Rubik’s official website will tell you, “Erno has always thought of the Cube primarily as an object of art, a mobile sculpture symbolizing stark contrasts of the human condition: bewildering problems and triumphant intelligence; simplicity and complexity; stability and dynamism; order and chaos.” When I found this, post-High Line, I thought of the John Guare play, Six Degrees of Separation. I first saw the film adaptation in high school. Two of the main characters are an affluent couple, an art dealer named Flan and his wife, Ouisa. They own a double-sided Kandinsky, which in the film is painted on one side with his radical Black Lines (1913) and on the other with his geometric Several Circles (1926). There’s a scene where Flan spins the Kandinsky around and around as Ouisa chants hypnotically, “chaos, control, chaos, control.” In another scene, she tells her daughter about the theory of Six Degrees of Separation—the idea that each of us is connected by six other people. She says, “I find that extremely comforting that we’re so close, but I also find it like Chinese water torture that we’re so close because you have to find the right six people to make the connection.” Years later, it was always her “chaos, control” bit that haunted me. But now it’s her frustration with this hex-web and her concern with human proximity—at once invisible, precise, and obvious—that either intrigues or depresses me; I can’t tell which.

I walk along the High Line a bit longer and search for a place to view the river one more time. I find it near the restrooms. When looking for a way to explain three-dimensional movement to his students, Erno Rubik took inspiration from the Danube River in Hungary. Watching it one day, he saw how the water moved around the rocks, and from this emerged the cube’s twisting mechanism. “The fact that it can do this without falling apart,” he said, “is part of its magic.”

Here at the Hudson, I lean over the corner edge of the railing and wonder what this water looks like in the daylight: if it’s blue or green, stagnant or depthless. Maybe during the day it’d be easier to see how it moves. I turn away from the water, and I notice for the first time that most of the passing pedestrians up here are, as far as I can tell, alone. They duck through and around each other deftly and without thought, sometimes reconvening a little down the path, sometimes not. Their flow is confounding and comforting and, I realize now, necessary. It’s a matter of physics: people here move to stay in motion.


Tia Anae recently graduated from Northwestern University's School of Communication. She's from the Bay Area and has been to New York exactly once. She currently lives in LA.

Bloodworms by M. A. Istvan Jr.

OBJECT: Bloodworms, Fish

BODY OF WATER: Hudson River

 

It was striper season in the early nineties

on the eastern bank of the Hudson River,

just south of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. 

My dad, bareback-sloshed with beer and sun,

had his deep-sea pole cast for food. To him

no matter were the toxicity warnings 

on most fish north of the Tappan Zee. 

 

When my dad reeled in a hook gone empty, 

it was my job to pass him the white carton

of gas station bloodworms—too little 

to do much more than pass, too afraid 

to dig through that mesh of moist seaweed

for a seven-inch aggressive: venom-fanged, 

a band of pulsing skin tags down each side.

 

Inevitably my dad would slur, “Wanna try 

baitin’ the bitch?” His casual delivery,

so he knew, painted the task so trouble-free

that the command at the core of his question 

stood out all the more. But he was not serious.

He knew me. He would leave me nerve-racked, 

just a moment, before showing how easy it was. 

 

A squeeze to protract its eversible proboscis,

my dad would let the four black fangs pierce

his nicotine finger, leaving the worm to dangle

for me. Then he would drive the hook down 

the retracting mouth, throughout the pink body.

So much blood, the color of ours, would pool 

in the creases of his hands, dripping to rocks.


 

M. A. ISTVAN JR. is a zodiac surgeon and respected board member of the National Council for Geocosmic Research. Whereas most other zodiac surgeons are equipped to shift your sign only one position forward, Istvan can shift your sign either one position forward or—barring the unlikely circumstance that you are a menopausal Pisces with a quadruped gait—even one position back. Istvan hopes that increased awareness about zodiac surgery will help bring in the funding required for researching zodiac sign transplantation, which ideally will allow a shift to any of the twelve signs in a matter of hours (as opposed to the years it takes currently to shift just one spot). As Istvan recently revealed in an interview with Shadow Transits, he envisions a future where there will be a zodiac donor box on driver’s licenses. https://txstate.academia.edu/MichaelIstvanJr.

Entrapment 1 by Alexis Neider

Alexis Neider created this artwork for an event in collaboration with Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess. See pictures and read more about it here.

OBJECTS: Surveillance, Baby Jello

BODIES OF WATER: New York Harbor, Gowanus Canal

Photographs by Alexis Neider and Nate Dorr


The ice hand sculptures are connected by a web of crochet tentacles that swim, entrap, and survey the waters.  Ideally, the ice will act as a buoy for the ropes. As the ice melts, the tentacles will swim, fly in the current, and then sink. This piece is "surveillance" as an object, and also "baby jello."


Alexis Neider is a painter and print-maker.  Her work uses domestic forms to address patterns of entry and barriers to entry over time.  Alexis has exhibited widely across NYC including at Local Project, A.I.R. Gallery, Clemente Soto Velez Center, Centotto Galleria, Steuben Gallery, Pratt Institute, Cuchifritos Gallery, Brian Morris Gallery, and Spacewomb.  She has exhibited internationally in Budapest at Villa Barabás Galeria and in Spain at Can Serrat.   She has attended residencies at Can Serrat, A.I.R. Budapest, Fowler Dune Shack Residency, and Catwalk Artist residency.  She lives in and creates work in Brooklyn, NY.

 

Mother of Exiles - the Hudson speaks to New York City by Laura Fairgrieve

OBJECT: Statue of Liberty

BODY OF WATER: Hudson River

Liberty was not delivered to us in an envelope
she was shipped from grayer pastures and I
breathed life into you in a new land
I brought you here and into her arms
and I am awash of postcards and trapped lightning
I am scabbed over from the coins tossed into me
my currents were made for larger bodies

I yawn and a hundred years worth of trash
gives way to bronzed shores
bronze arms
all greenness is forgotten by the wish for heat
the hope of skin and blood to greet it

keep your pomp, my waters were meant
to rush like a busted dam
to tangle and mix with bodies tossed by
the Atlantic, the Mediterranean
born by the Queiq
to clean off the pomp of their regimes
not to paint on a new one
to surge beneath foreign ships
not to knit a net against them

ban your own pomp and if you don’t know who I mean
imagine a fountain
a pipe bursting outwards like a rocket
a rising tide erupting from an index finger
pointing into its own pale eye

my waters were meant for mightier shores
and the woman above me
shrinks at the seams
while my currents stretch like fingers
searching for the worthy whose rafts
are kept away
our golden door is bolted and
my currents itch outwards.


Laura Fairgrieve received her MFA from Adelphi University where she currently teaches. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in Inscape Magazine, Mortar Magazine, Ink in Thirds, The Bitchin' Kitsch, East Coast Ink, and Words Dance Publishing. She is a recipient of the 2016 Poets & Writers Amy Award. She lives in Brooklyn. 

The Rescue by Asya Graf

The man took off his white t-shirt, then removed what looked like a gold chain from around his neck. Balancing on one leg, then the other, he pulled off his white sneakers and lined them up on the wooden boardwalk. Lastly, he laid aside his cell phone, on which he had just been talking, vaulted over the railing, and jumped. We heard the thud of his body hitting the water and the shouts that followed. No one looked prepared to jump in, but everyone had their phones out, ready to call 911. If the police had cared to ask, I would’ve said he was in his thirties, black, thin and wiry, and here the semi-certainties would have ended.

We had been sitting on the strip of grass running down the middle of Christopher Street Pier. The sun was descending onto the rooftops of Jersey City, spilling a russet patina over our faces and the sheen on the water. A woman was lying near us face down on her towel, her bikini top untied. A pair of teenage girls sprawled on their backs, schoolbags serving as pillows, absorbed in their phones. A sunset tango class was in session at the end of the pier, and we could hear fragments of music, the poignant plaint of violin and bandoneon. Even though we had noticed the man’s careful undressing some way down the pier, neither of us thought to interrupt the halfhearted argument we were having until several beats after the jump. The man’s methodical actions had seemed scripted and distant, right down to the moment when he slipped beyond the railing, as though we’d seen it already, on Law & Order perhaps.

“He jumped,” you said and squinted into the light reflected off the water. You were still holding my hand but you let go absentmindedly, and at a really bad time, I thought.

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The Game by A. E. Souzis

It was poker night at the Gowanus Social Club and Jake didn’t want to be there.

He didn’t want to be in the room, which was like a rec room basement, with walls like strips of brown tar, and men with mouths like that, too. He didn’t want to sit at the chipped Formica table, staring at the tits on a ripped St. Pauli Girl poster and the dented dartboard, flipping through a greasy deck of cards and drinking flat beer. 

He knew where he wanted to be. Celebrating his first night home at his mom’s one-bedroom in Bay Ridge, sitting on her floral couch, eating her famous lasagna and watching Criminal Minds. Lisa would have finally forgiven him and she’d be there too, and when his mom left for the late shift at the hospital they would laugh about how the squeaky springs on the couch, after four years, hadn’t changed.
 

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Scarlet Tanager by Nicole Haroutunian

This story is an outtake from Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City's Forgotten Waterfront. Read more about the book, and order it, here

OBJECT: Scarlet Tanager, Oil, Toxins

BODY OF WATER: Newtown Creek

Sunday morning, we’re sopping up Heinz beans with toast, taking our eggs over easy, drinking down restorative pints of Guinness. The pub is cool and dark, shelter against the bright, beautiful summer day outside. It’s not the same spot we were drinking at last night, but it’s right around the corner.

Erin’s college roommate, Judy, is staying with us at our parents’. I couldn’t wait to have Erin back home again, but three of us girls in the bedroom I’d just gotten used to having to myself, well. The boys, Eddie and Ralph, aren’t staying there, too—God forbid—but they were here last night and are back this morning, so they might as well be.

Feeling ok? Erin mouths. Although she’s only a year and half older than me, college has made the gap more pronounced. I let her baby me the same way she let me tag along last night. I turned eighteen last month so it’s finally legal for me to trail her into a bar. I nod. My waking headache recedes with each greasy bite of breakfast.

“You do look alike,” Judy says, eyes flitting between Erin and me. “It’s just your hair is a different color.” She twists a piece of her long light hair with Erin’s: same-same. “People ask if we’re sisters all the time.”

I cram a piece of sausage into my mouth.

“I said that,” Eddie says. “Didn’t I ask you that when we met?”

“You make it sound so long ago,” Erin says. She’s practically fluttering her eyelashes. “It was just last night!”

This is news to me. I thought these boys were college friends, too.

“No, no,” Judy sets me straight. “They’re in the Coast Guard.” She says it as if there’s romance to this.

I raise two fingers to my brow, salute.

“Cute,” Ralph says. I see my sister and her friend exchange a look. “You girls up for a walk?” he asks. “Some of the guys spotted a crazy oil spill while they were on a patrol the other day. It’s near here. Me and Eddie want to check it out.”

“Gross,” Judy says.

I was focused on catching up with Erin last night, edging between her and Judy for a little of her time—well, that and drinking beer after beer—but I remember now, Ralph hanging around me, Ralph buying me some of those beers. He’s definitely the more appealing of the two boys, but I still don’t want to encourage it. What would Judy and my sister do with only one guy between them? I’m the obvious fifth wheel. “I should go home,” I say.

“Yeah, you don’t have to come,” Erin says to me, proving my point. A gold claddagh ring, her one adornment today, glints as she gestures for our check. The ring was our grandmother’s. I used to think that once I got to be Erin’s age, I would start to accumulate some of Nanna’s “special pieces,” too, but it turns out I will never be Erin’s age.

“She does have to come,” Ralph says. “Of course she does.”

We make our way out onto the sidewalk and let the boys lead the way under the pigeon-haunted looping arcs of the seven train, across the frenetic eight lanes of Queens Boulevard and down bustling Greenpoint Avenue, as if we weren’t the ones who are from here. Me, I don’t follow boys, but I do follow my sister. I always have. Some girls gain weight when they go away to school, but Erin, I see in the sunlight, casts only a sliver of shadow. Our mother, entranced with canned goods and proud of her perpetually full pantry, whispered to me on the way out this morning that I best make sure my sister finished her breakfast. I’ll report back that she did, although it was Eddie who ate the last of her eggs.

Ralph walks backward for a block, asking us how long we’ve lived here (forever), how we like it (it’s where we’re from, what does liking it have to do with it), if there were any good spots to buy comic books (what?). In the early summer sun, his eyes are dark and luminous, like Coca Cola in a glass.

He turns back around and I tug on Erin’s elbow. “Who are these people?”

Judy laughs, as if I’d been talking to her. She casts a pointed eye at the rear of Eddie’s tight jeans. “Like, do you need any more information?”

Erin wraps her arm around my neck, a brittle vice grip. “We’re just having a nice day,” she says, squeezing. We cross over the LIE, the traffic rushing underneath us, to and from Manhattan. We’re coming up on the cemetery where we’ve got a family mausoleum. It’s not one of the fancy ones with stained glass and carved angels, just a plain old grey stone box.

Opposite the cemetery is a crumbling brick school, sort of gothic with turrets at the top. It used to terrify us as children. Kids would sneak in to ghost-hunt at Halloween every year. When I was twelve and Erin was fourteen, she went with a bunch of older kids and I thought I would die waiting for her to come home. When she finally did, she had this story of how she hadn’t seen a ghost but had felt one, a cold cloak touching all of her body, an icy feeling she couldn’t shake. It was with her, she said, still with her, right there in our bedroom. She climbed into my bed and cried. I still don’t know what really happened in that empty building that night, but I know it didn’t really have to do with a ghost.

I sweep my hand across the landscape. “This is called Blissville,” I say. "Really."

Judy sniffs the air. Her nose wrinkles, porcine, unflattering. I am glad we’re moving toward the smell.

“That’s the Creek,” I add.

“Are you starting at New Paltz in the fall, too?” Ralph asks me. “Joining your sis?”

I shake my head; Judy slips her hands into her back pockets, pushing her chest forward. I almost say that she’ll have Erin to herself again soon enough but instead I pull my tortoiseshell sunglasses from my bag, slide them up my nose. “Nearby,” I say. “Vassar.”

Eddie laughs, nudges Ralph. “Girls school, huh,” he says. “Nice.”

“It’s been co-ed for nearly ten years,” I say. Eddie’s head is going pink in the sun, the skin exposed by his military shearing.

Ralph’s face is pink, too, but likely from the embarrassment of being associated with Eddie. That the pale buffoon is who my sister seems to have her eye on is a disappointment.

We’re coming up on a chain link fence. On the other side, Newtown Creek. Because the sky is a flawless blue, from here it sparkles like any normal body of water, despite the grey industrial tangle on either side of it. Ralph holds a piece of fence to the side so we can duck through. Some prior explorers or ne’er-do-wells have cut it with sheers. The ground is silty, strewn with broken glass, tires, jagged flinty rocks. Judy picks across it in her raffia platforms, fighting a scowl, trying to seem game. She lifts up her left foot, inspecting the sole. Erin and I are in matching blue Dr. Scholl’s, keeping us out of the muck. We head straight for the green-slimed pier at the water’s edge, trying to see below the surface.

“I expected black,” Erin says. “Plumes, streaks.”

“It just looks like water,” Judy says. “Regular, dirty, disgusting New York City water. I’m from Long Beach—we should go there next week.”

They retreat; Eddie follows. I crouch. It’s true that there’s no dramatic, see-it-from-the-sky oil spill evident, but up close, the water looks psychedelic, slicked with a purple-silver film. It doesn’t look regular. Ralph comes up beside me, hitches up his jeans and squats down to inspect.

“So, is it the oil spill that gives it that smell? No,” Ralph says.

“Our uncle worked at this factory,” I say. Erin perches on a slab of cement overlooking the water. I worry for tetanus, but join her. Eddie takes the corner on her other side, his thigh pressed against hers. I wish she were wearing jeans like the rest of us, but Erin is always in a dress—this one, red and blue vertical stripes with big white buttons down the front.

“More like a plant,” Erin corrects me. “Rendering animals for glue. For a while when we were little we thought he stole pets to burn up—it was explained to us too quickly.”

“Really, it was scraps from butchers, house pets that had passed, police horses,” I say. “He told us that once they even broke down a circus elephant.”

Ralph hovers between us and the water, toeing a role of waterlogged rug with his brown boot. Erin pulls her hair to the side, exposing her freckled neck. As Eddie eyes it, I notice that Judy is leaning on him, the curve of her hip, where her shirt is riding up, snug against his side. Erin tips her head closer to his, and he takes her hand. Together, they examine her gold ring, Erin explaining the Irish iconography, the clasped hands and heart.

I talk over her: “He lost his job a few years back when the place got caught pumping all kinds of rancid fat and stuff into the water. It’s still in there, I bet. Hence, the smell.”

“God, can we talk about something other than rotting carcasses?” Judy says. She is a breath away from a huff, a toe-tap away from a stomping tantrum. She wants attention and she is not getting it, not from anyone. I almost feel bad. Her eyes snap from Erin to Eddie at a dizzying clip. She tosses her head, looks to Ralph now. He’s still listening to me. “Like, anything?” she says. “Like, what should we do tonight?”

“Our uncle told us about an explosion that happened over here when he first started working at the plant,” I say. Judy wanting to change the subject is all I need to keep going. “The crew heard this terrific boom and then, sailing up three stories into the air, they saw a manhole cover. Flipping like a coin. They started calling heads or tales.” I point up at the sky, draw an arc with my finger. As I do, I actually see something in the sky. A glint of red.

Ralph squints up at where I’m pointing. “Is that a balloon?”

No one else sees it; they’re not looking hard enough. “Right there,” we say, tracing its flight. “There!” I shield my eyes with my hand, pick my way down the shore of the creek, following the little flutter. The smell of the water intensifies as I skirt a rusted cluster of rebar. This area is still active during the week, but on a Sunday, it’s just us, the charred, caustic smell, the water, the sky. The red flicker settles on the bare branch of a slim, gnarled tree.

“It’s a bird!” I say. It is palm-sized, if that, scarlet with black wings and a black tail. Its peppercorn eyes, level with its pale beak, give it a serious look, despite its festive plumage.

Ralph, right behind me, says, “Well, what did you think it would be?”

“It’s the end of June and that tree is dead,” I say. “The water is filled with oil and decay. I didn’t think it would be a perfect little bird.”

“I’m just teasing,” Ralph says. “Maybe it’s like a canary in a mine, you know?”

“Yeah,” I say. “If it dies, we’ll know that we need to get out of here quick.”

The bird makes a surprisingly throaty sound: chick-burr, chick-burr. Ralph says, “It knows we’re talking about it.”

“It must be used to being watched,” I say. “I don’t think there are many birds like this left in Queens.”

“Bird watchers call the bird that hooks them, that makes them want to buy their first pair of binoculars, their spark bird,” Ralph says.

I stare into those sugary eyes of his. “Are you sparked?”

He opens and closes his hands over his head, wiggling his fingers like fireworks. I laugh as he sparkles, drawing closer to me. I flash forward to the fall, to my own college roommate—who will she be?—asking about Queens, about my last summer there. Me telling her, “There was this guy in the Coast Guard…”

A low-flying plane roars by, descending into LaGuardia. The noise startles the bird as much as it does us. It has a bit of a false start, a stutter that gets it only as far as another branch on the tree, crying low—chick-burr, chick-burr—but then it is off, away and gone.

When the bird noise and plane noise clear, what is left is the whooshing of my own blood in my ears as Ralph leans in, the crackle of sparks, sparks, sparks. Then we hear a splash, a splash, a splash. Three in a row, or is it four?

Ralph takes off running. His strides are long and he doesn’t bobble as his boots crunch down on all manner of detritus as he flies along the shore. He is military after all. I follow, toes curled to keep my slides on.

Judy is wet, but it is Erin in the water. Eddie is in there, too. Ralph seems poised to jump in, but pauses, assessing.

“What the hell?” I yell. I am dizzy from the sparks, the run, the fumes, the worry. I hold my hands out to Erin as if she could reach.

Judy’s jeans are soaked from the knees down, a little higher on the left than the right, the water-weight causing them to droop on her hips. The tips of her blond locks are dripping and she is retreating from the water’s edge. Her eyes are wide and scared, but her mouth is set in a bitter line. “She pushed me,” Judy says. “Into that water.”

“Why is she the one in there, then?” I ask, as Erin’s head dips below the surface. She’s not drowning. She’s diving. Eddie is treading, groping under the surface, trying to get a grip on her. His face is red from the exertion and, it seems, from anger.

“You need me in there, man?” Ralph calls.

Eddie answers by kicking his way back to the water’s edge. “She’s crazy,” he says. “She won’t come out.” He uses his big arms to hoist himself onto dry land.

“Erin,” I scream, my hands balled up at my sides. “Erin, get out of there!”

“She’s crazy,” Eddie repeats. We watch, helpless, as Erin bobs up for breath, goes back under. “Goddamn it, my skin is going to fall off.” Eddie holds out his arms, examining.

Judy approaches, saying, “Let me look.”

“You,” Eddie says. To us, he says, “This one, too. She threw Erin’s ring in the water, is what this all is about.” He makes a terrible hacking sound in this throat, spits, repeats.

I feel bile rising in my own throat listening to him. I ask Judy, “Why would you do that?”

The corners of her mouth turn down. “I didn’t think,” she says. “I just saw her take it off to show Eddie and I grabbed it and threw.”

“When our uncle died,” I say, “the one who we keep talking about, the one who worked here before losing his job, he lived with our grandmother. Her gave her that ring and so she gave it to Erin. In remembrance of him. At the funeral.”

I don’t know why I say this, except that it works: Judy starts to cry. There’s no special story to that ring. There’s no way to explain what Erin is doing out there in the Creek. From here, the oil and the toxins, the heavy metals and the death, turn the water into a perfect mirror for the sky. Each time Erin dives under, it is like she disappears into the clouds. It must be deeper than it seems.

Later, after we’ve sent the boys back to the Coast Guard, after we’ve sent Judy back to Long Island, after Erin has showered, and showered again, and I’ve brushed her long blond hair, after she sleeps it off and a few days pass and we pretend what happened was funny, I go to the library and check out a field guide to birds of the coastal northeast.

I don’t know what Erin’s spark was, if it was in that empty school, or away at college, if it was stoked by the swirling oil swallowing her ring in Newtown Creek; I don’t know what she’s left looking for. But me? I lace up a pair of boots and tell my sister to do the same. We’re going to find that little red bird. 


Nicole Haroutunian is co-editor of Underwater New York. 

 

The Hudson River, The Trains Below by Tobias Carroll

SONG: Trans-Hudson by My Favorite Citizen

BODY OF WATER: Hudson River

Tell me about memory and distance and time. I don’t quite understand how they converge even now, pushing forty. I used to view distance solely in terms of time, used to think any trip that was an hour north was in the same place: visiting cousins in Bergen County, going on trips to museums in the city, venturing off to my dad’s office in North Brunswick. They were all in the neighborhood of an hour from my hometown and, being a child, I never looked at a map, never gleaned where they all were in relation to one another. I thought of everything with a flawed logic, without a sense of space or geometry. That was something I had to learn. It shifted when I went from passenger to driver, changing my relationship to the roads on which I traveled.

Cue up the next course, then; cue up the next track. In this case it was public transportation: at the age of eighteen I moved into a Manhattan dorm and began to familiarize myself with the New York City subway system and its cousin, the PATH train. I’d taken the subway once or twice before, most memorably to save money on parking when friends and I had driven up to see Pink Floyd at Yankee Stadium in the summer of 1994. But the subway took some work, even considering that I was taking it in the most simplistic manner possible: largely, between Greenwich Village and Midtown. Brooklyn was a mystery to me then, a place where I’d travel with carefully remembered directions; Queens and the Bronx and Staten Island were even less on my radar.

I’m pretty sure that the first trip I made on the PATH was to the Newport Centre Mall, along with my oldest friend. I don’t remember what the purpose of the trip was. It might have just been that most archetypal and predictable of decisions made by people who grew up in the Garden State: we missed seeing the inside of a mall. The PATH is similar enough to the subway that it shouldn’t feel all that different, and yet it does. Some of that pertains to the stations, with tiled floors and walls that look more roughly hewed. Some of it is the smell–-not a bad one by any means, but a more industrial one, and one that’s sufficiently different from the subway to be easily recognizable as such. Blindfold someone and place them in the 9th Street PATH station, then lead them one block away to the 8th Street entrance to the station housing the A/C/E and B/D/F/M lines. There’s a noticeable difference there, despite their proximity and similarity of function.

In those days, the train seemed to take ages between the Christopher Street stop and its next destination, either Hoboken or the Pavonia-Newport station, depending on the line for which you’d opted. In college, I made that trip frequently–-sometimes to see movies at the Newport Centre Mall, sometimes to meet up with a friend at the Hoboken stop and drive around the northern part of the state talking about punk bands. The spaces between stops in Manhattan felt fast and regular: 33rd to 23rd to 14th to 9th to Christopher. And then, the wait.

That gap under the Hudson no longer seems as long, and I’m at a loss as to why. Maybe the speed of services has improved in the last twenty years. Maybe I’ve gotten more familiar with the route and it simply seems faster. I’ve kept on taking the PATH from Manhattan to Hoboken. I’ve kept on taking it to Pavonia-Newport, to visit friends or pick up rental cars in the mall’s parking garage. I’ve taken it to Grove Street for bookstores and bars. And in recent years I’ve also become familiar with the World Trade Center’s PATH station, traveling to Harrison repeatedly to watch soccer games and, for a little less than a year, to the Exchange Place station as part of my morning commute.

***

It’s a strange corner of Jersey City. Pavonia-Newport abounds with towering apartment buildings and office spaces. Grove Street and Journal Square feel comfortable and residential: they’re places where people live, shop, and eat. Exchange Place felt disorientingly generic, as though I was walking through a video game’s idea of what a waterfront business district looked like. The PATH train was the last leg of my trip there in the mornings and the first leg of my trip home at night. Sometimes I’d sit and drink a cup of coffee and write at the Starbucks next to the station first. Sometimes I’d be there late and I’d go straight to the station and begin the slow trip home.

After a while the routine got to me. The temporary platform to which the train ran in Manhattan made for a bleak start to the commute back, and the tendency of those waiting on the platform for the New Jersey-bound train to push their way on before those of us who were heading into the city had had a chance to disembark added to the frustration. Atop an already-jittery work situation, this seemed to be one source of stress that I had some ability to work around. So the trip home found some variations; I sought new ways to cross rivers.

I began to take a roundabout way home: a ferry from Jersey City to South Street Seaport, and then a second ferry from there to a stop closer to my neighborhood. A large boat on the East River, and a smaller boat to cross the Hudson. It was a welcome change; it was nice to sit and stand and look out and see the open sky, to watch the blue and the clouds above. The sensation of moving down the river with skylines on either side, the sense of being surrounded by life on all sides. There’s a certain point where the sky starts to seem like something alien, where cloud formations resemble structures and vessels hanging impossibly in the distance. I welcomed it.

It wasn’t an everyday occurrence. And for all that I live near a ferry stop, it isn’t really a service I use regularly. It is hard to argue with the frequency and utility of the city’s train systems. Even so, the drift and the different types of motion are welcome. It’s a reminder of something older and something rapid. It’s a trip out of the tunnel; it’s an elision of time and distance. It’s a crossing of an empty space, or the realization of new ways to move, and a welcome conveyance home. 


Tobias Carroll is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn. His writing has been published by Bookforum, Men's Journal, Tin House, Hazlitt, and Rolling Stone. He is the author of the collection Transitory and the novel Reel. He's on Twitter at @TobiasCarroll.

Islanders Like Me by Alanna Schubach

SONG: The Downeaster 'Alexa' by Billy Joel 

BODY OF WATER: Atlantic Ocean 

The year I was born, a hurricane made landfall on Long Island that sent gray Atlantic waves gobbling up the sand and slamming against the building where my family lived. We had a third floor apartment that faced the sea, nothing but a strip of beach between us. When I got a little older, my father would take me onto our terrace during storms to see bolts of lightning slice the water, or watch as the ocean slowly swallowed the sun.

As south shore kids, we bragged about our wipe-outs, how strong waves sucked us into themselves and sent us somersaulting until we could only guess which way led back to breathing. Once, a friend collided with another child’s boogie board and emerged onto the sand slicked with blood running from his nose. When his mother saw him, she fled in the other direction. Once our parents spotted a baby, upside down, chubby legs churning in the air after it tipped into one of the buckets of water we dragged up to our piece of beach, where we laid out towels and vinyl chairs, where the adults sat under umbrellas reading or talking nonsense or doling out pieces of fruit, occasionally hauling themselves up to stand at the shore and watch over us. The danger was part of the appeal, as was the discomfort, the sunburn, the sand collecting inside the crotches of bathing suits, the stripes of zinc under our eyes, the heavy sensation in our lungs when we took deep breaths after swimming for hours. During the day, our beach was populated with gentle characters: the sand sculptor who with his hands shaped huge turtles, the bagpiper bleating at all hours, the martial artist up at dawn doing tai chi by the jetty. But at night, the boardwalk became dotted with shambling figures that required a wide berth; they were left over from the deinstitutionalization of the 1970s, when city mental institutions discharged their patients to ancient motels lining the Long Beach sand.

When I was seven, we moved a few miles inland, to a town that was wealthier and whiter. And greener: here was your classic suburb of split-levels, sycamores, and well-groomed lawns. My brother and I were forbidden from watching television when the sun was out, so we pulled the neighbor kids from their air conditioning and onto the streets, which we crosshatched with chalk drawings. My parents started calling our house Camp Schubach, and we quickly forgot that it ever hadn’t been ours.

But something must have remained off-kilter. Once, while riding bikes down one of the smooth avenues of our neighborhood, a friend shared with me her prophecy: “You’re going to leave and I’m going to stay here, and every now and then you’ll come back and visit and tell me about where you went.” And the idea, Stay here, suddenly struck me as impossible; it provoked a disgust I couldn’t explain.

*

Last summer some friends and I drove out from Queens to the island to spend a weekend at the beach. Before we headed back to the city, we stopped at a diner. It was packed for Sunday breakfast, and as we waited to be seated, carful after carful of Long Islanders piled in behind us, surveyed the crowds, and proclaimed to whomever would listen, “I’m not fucking waiting.”

The situation, we learned over and over again, was bullshit, this place was poorly run, if a table didn’t open right away they were leaving. The pitch of their anger seemed at odds with the well-lit, bustling circumstances of the little diner, almost to the point of the surreal. But in fact it was familiar, the impatience and the aggravation, the suspicion that, absent constant vigilance, you will get fucked. Many Long Islanders do not have deep roots in this country; growing up, most everyone’s grandparents, including my own, had foreign accents. Perhaps it’s how they had to fight for their little pockets of affluence after who knows what kind of nightmare stops along the way, a fight passed down the generations but now missing a reasonable target. The hostility was like a gene activated at the onset of puberty; I remember wondering a few days into middle school, the kind of place where reading Lord of the Flies would have been redundant, is this what it’s going to be like? Where were the friendly beach clans, the children whose brutishness ended at carving up jellyfish with plastic sand shovels? So I found a new clan—the Goths—and made it my business to loathe Long Island, to make my outsider orientation clear to everyone.

Long Island can be shockingly provincial, its proximity to one of the world’s greatest cultural centers seemingly not a factor at all; it’s among the most racially segregated areas in the country, and in 2014 the state had to order school districts to enroll undocumented immigrant children, after they claimed to have no room for them. My brother’s peewee baseball coach once told the players to run like a pack of people were chasing them, using a slur to describe said people that is not appropriate for children or for anyone, and when I had my Bat Mitzvah, another girl told me that her mother disapproved of the whole proceeding because the invitation cards had been “too casual.” Often, people’s approval and disapproval seemed misplaced; what stoked their outrage had little to do, I thought and continue to think, with what was actually wrong.

We Goths felt that we alone knew this. We were imbued with the righteous authority to identify poseurs, followers, and Jewish American Princesses, to forge our own paths. What you feel you discover as an adolescent about your culture, its pettiness and justifications, its encouragement of the forfeiture of dreams and values, is not actually wrong; you just gradually become acclimated until you fall victim yourself, like being sucked under a wave, only very, very slowly.

My affection for Long Island has not exactly grown. I jettisoned my accent in college because students from the New York suburbs were widely known to be brash, entitled, and oblivious, about as appealing as an eight a.m. class. But it’s started to come back. I’ve found it makes me sound tough, if only to myself, when I want to seem like I’m not nervous or self-conscious. That edge of hostility, unfounded though it may be, imbues us with power. Holding onto misplaced rage is a form of self-harm, like holding a hot coal in your hand, but we can always throw that coal at someone else.

Maybe what we’re all angry about is being from Long Island. But none of us control where we come from; place of origin is as arbitrary as it is formative. Which may be why it’s so appealing to overlay our homelands with an ambitious sweep—which in turn explains Billy Joel.

The homegrown troubadour unites nearly all Long Islanders, be they Goth or poseur—though of course even he sings mostly about the city. “The Downeaster ‘Alexa’,” though, evokes a dream-Long Island, gritty, romantic, and sea-swept; it’s the ballad of a down-on-his-luck fisherman from a vanishing community, struggling to make a living off the same waters that hemmed us all in, left us vulnerable, formed an incubator for the kind of insular, territorial island culture that has at some points in history bred cannibalism. In the music video, a solemn-faced Joel plays an accordion on a crumbling dock and then underneath a boardwalk, intercut with images of bearded men shaking out damp fishing nets on ship decks. The song is so epic that it includes a violin solo by Itzhak Perlman. Its seriousness can be a little tough to take.       

But his brazen earnestness must be what people love about Billy Joel, why he is playing thirty consecutive shows at MSG this year. Long Islanders, too, often carry with them a touching streak of sincerity; my friend from Islip does an impression of a “classic Long Islander,” which is a middle-aged tough guy wandering nervously around a drugstore, looking for the tampon aisle because his girlfriend sent him out to get some.

“The Downeaster ‘Alexa’” concludes with a nod to Long Island’s social divisions: “There ain't no island left for islanders like me,” Joel sings. The track is at its heart a folk ballad about a vanishing nautical community, but hearing Billy Joel intone the phrase “islanders like me” almost feels like tacit permission to be just a little proud of coming from Long Island. And you can’t sing about it without singing about the water; the whole region’s saving grace may be its vulnerability to the natural world, which periodically makes sure to remind us that the apartment towers, the motels, the baseball fields and shopping malls and wedding venues, can be taken by the waves, the pettiness and provincialism is nothing against the mouth of the ocean, which can swallow it all as easy as it swallowed the sun every night when I watched from the terrace. 


Alanna Schubach is a teacher and freelance journalist living in Queens. Her fiction has previously appeared in Newtown Literary, Post Road, Prick of the Spindle, the Bellevue Literary Review, and more. She was named a 2015 Fellow in Fiction with the New York Foundation for the Arts.

 

Exodus of Dead Horse Bay by Julie Lunde

OBJECT: Horse Bones, Hebrew Newspaper Fossil

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay

 

So it was written: the deeps covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone.

It goes like this. One person was chasing another. The sea split. There was a door. There was a crossing.
From one side to the other. Then the door slammed. It slammed in the face of the chaser.  He was hit.
He was sunk. He went down.

We were still running and we did not look back. Never look back. It slows you down. Distraction.
Face forwards. Run faster. It went like this. The sea unsplit. The stones went down. The deeps covered
them. They sank down to the bottom, trapped there like a hard word stuck in a tight throat.

So it is said. Memories of it washed up jagged on the shore. Like cracked glass, the edges healed.
Things tend towards smoothness. Things end. 


Julie Lunde is a recent graduate of the Northwestern University creative writing program. In June 2015, she was named the recipient of the Arch Street Prize for her essay "The Plural of Fish." Her poetry and prose have also been published in The Allegheny Review, 3Elements Review, and Prompt Magazine. She was also the founder of the Northwestern Jewish Writers’ Workshop. She is currently living in Manhattan and working on her first book.

Horse Seance by Meredith Drum

For all the ghost horses haunting Dead Horse Bay, this was made for an Underwater New York event as part of Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess Art in SoHo, April 21, 2016.

OBJECT: Horse Bones

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay

Follow the link to see images of Horse Seance floating in the Flow Pool. 


 

 

Meredith Drum’s most recent project is the Fish Stories Community Cookbook: a collection of seafood recipes, local histories, stories, drawings and ecological information contributed by people who live and work in the Lower East Side of New York City. The book was compiled and produced by the Oyster City Project (Rachel Stevens and Meredith Drum) for Paths to Pier 42 and distributed at the Paths to Pier 42 Fall 2015 Celebration in East River Park.

 

Jaula Dorada 1 (Golden Cage 1) by Alexis Neider

Alexis Neider created this artwork for an event in collaboration with Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess. See pictures and read more about it here.

OBJECT: Birdcage

BODY OF WATER: Gowanus Canal

Photographs by Nate Dorr


I've been working on the idea of borders-spaces of entry and rejection. After reading an article in El Diario that called the US, "la jaula dorada," or "the golden cage" in which migrants can enter but cannot leave, I created my own golden birdcage. I hope it floats! 


Alexis Neider is a painter and print-maker.  Her work uses domestic forms to address patterns of entry and barriers to entry over time.  Alexis has exhibited widely across NYC including at Local Project, A.I.R. Gallery, Clemente Soto Velez Center, Centotto Galleria, Steuben Gallery, Pratt Institute, Cuchifritos Gallery, Brian Morris Gallery, and Spacewomb.  She has exhibited internationally in Budapest at Villa Barabás Galeria and in Spain at Can Serrat.   She has attended residencies at Can Serrat, A.I.R. Budapest, Fowler Dune Shack Residency, and Catwalk Artist residency.  She lives in and creates work in Brooklyn, NY.

Untitled Double Marker by Nicole Antebi

Nicole Antebi adapted this artwork for an event in collaboration with Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess. See pictures and read more about it here.

OBJECT: River Water

BODY OF WATER: Rio Bravo / Rio Grande

Photographs and images by Nicole Antebi and Nate Dorr 


Following the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, the river (referred to as Rio Bravo to the South and Rio Grande to the North) would divide two cities that once held the same name. Double Boundary Marker is a small hand prop fabricated in unfired clay and bound by a base containing a level filled with water gleaned from the river with two names. Ideally this double marker will dissolve once submerged in the flow pool.


Nicole Antebi works in non-fiction animation, motion graphics, installation while simultaneously connecting and creating opportunities for other artists through larger curatorial and editorial projects such as Water, CA and Winter Shack. Her work has been shown in several continents and in alternative spaces such as Hive House Los Angeles, High Desert Test Sites, The Manhattan Bridge Anchorage, Teeny Cine’s converted trailer, Portable Forest, a Texas Grain Silo and in the cabin of a capsized ship at Machine Project in Los Angeles. She was the 2015 animator-in-residence at Circuit Bridges, New York and was recently awarded a Jerome Foundation Grant in Film/Video for a forthcoming animated film about El Paso and Ciudad Juàrez in the early 90’s.

Flying Fish Kite by Mark Joshua Epstein

Mark Joshua Epstein created this artwork for an event in collaboration with Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess. See pictures and read more about it here.

OBJECT: Flying Fish Kite

BODY OF WATER: Coney Island Creek

Photographs by Nate Dorr and Mark Joshua Epstein 


Air. Structure. Pattern.


Mark Joshua Epstein received his BFA from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and his MFA from the Slade School of Fine Art. Epstein has had solo shows at Biquini Wax (Mexico City), Brian Morris Gallery (New York, NY), Feral (Mexico City), Illinois State University (Normal, IL) and Vane Gallery (Newcastle, UK). Epstein recently discussed his practice on www.paintingisdead.com and some recent works can be seen in the April issue of L'Officiel Mexico. Even more of his work can be seen at www.markjoshuaepstein.com