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.

Aquamarine by Ian Johnson

OBJECT: Sea Glass

BODY OF WATER: Coney Island

The boardwalk transforms

every couple blocks.

The wood runs seaward,

shifts toward north

or goes missing

behind caution tape.


I prefer it to the street;

a one mile walk past

the wet and empty funhouse,

blocky old folk’s homes

and thin chickens

in barren gardens.


Once I pass the ball field

I enter a teflon town

deemed more resilient

to market

crashes and



It requires stamina,

all of me to reach you;

with your sharp wit and

your middle finger and

your clutter and

your fear.


You are aquamarine

sea glass in cigarette sand,

dirty and disguised,

still jagged

and unready

to be collected.

Ian Johnson lives in Brooklyn. His poetry is often inspired by his work and travels as a therapist for homebound seniors in the New York metropolitan area.