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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.

Dreamland's Incubator Babies by Amy Schreibman Walter

OBJECT: Dreamland

BODY OF WATER: Coney Island

(a found poem) 

 

Next to the bearded lady, premature babies.

Lined up under heaters, they breathed filtered air.

 

No more than three pounds. Infants in incubators -

part of the carnival; a quarter to see.

 

The Incubator Doctor, an oddity - premature

babies, expected to die.

 

Dr. Couney used local babies, employed

a French head nurse, new mothers to give milk.

 

In 1911 his reputation tarnished - Dreamland

went up in flames.

 

The babies, safely whisked to Luna Park, though

The New York Times reported that six had burned to death.

 

He carried a crook- handed cane, called himself

a propagandist for the premature; saved at least 6,500.

 

All those quarters bought him a big house

at Sea Gate; he died forgotten.

 

Today pretty girls and seagulls play their games;

nobody has seen the likes of him for 60 years.

 

All lines of the poem taken from the article: And Next to the Bearded Lady, Premature Babies by Michael Brick. New York Times, June 12, 2005. 


Amy Schreibman Walter's debut chapbook, Coney Island and Other Places, was published in January 2013 by Lulu Press. Her poems have appeared in various online and in print journals, including Metazen and Elimae. You can find her here: www.amyschreibmanwalter.com