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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.

Asymmetrical Kicking by Steve Mentz

OBJECTBaby Doll Leg

BODY OF WATERDead Horse Bay 

baby doll leg.jpg

I knew she’d miss me.

Points of fingers digging slightly,

Varying pressure across my unfeeling thigh,

Holding whatever was around us.

Touch binds emotion to dead things.

It skates along filaments to sinews,

Plastic to skin to salt.

She brought me to the beach, into the surf, out here:

That was her mistake.

 

Beneath the surface flows another world.

Sideways I kick inside it,

Detached,

Solitary.

Lashing out, I move

Asymmetrically.

No longer attached to body or world or girl,

I swim alone.

The salt burns and trickles inside me,

Filling me up.

A dark motion holds me for a long time.

 

Returning is another leaving.

Never stepping twice onto the same sand,

Out of the same salt water, alongside the same

Dead things.

Air feels empty after so much water.

Now when I kick nothing moves.


Steve Mentz is Professor of English at St John's where he teaches Shakespeare, oceanic literature, and literary theory. He's written two scholarly books, including most recently *At the Bottom of Shakespeare's Ocean* (2009), edited two more academic volumes, and also published many articles on literary culture and the maritime environment. His works in progress, performance reviews, and swimming autobiography can be found on his blog, The Bookfish (www.stevementz.com)