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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.

By that Park Up the River by Sing Sing by Aldina Vazao Kennedy

OBJECTContaminated Fish

BODY OF WATERHudson River

 

You lay me by the Hudson. By the Prison.
Searchlight tower gone dark in kiddie park.

You came to Ossining to fetch me back.
Drove to Bronx, 2 am, for Kansas Chicken.

But I couldn’t eat, not behind their bullet-
proof glass. Not by grass, nor rocks, nor River.

Undid my strappy shoes and wet my knees.
We used to tease: fish here have three eyes.

I wished for one to jump five feet high to me.
But nothing jumped. Fish here swim furtively.

You touched my hair, then left cheek, nose, lidded
eyes, and beading downy skin leading to my lips.

Slid down my chin, round my neck, to my chest.
Stopped. My hands stilled. Half aware of where

I was. I recall flying, watching, herons
billing, shad running, hunting seagulls.


Aldina Vazão Kennedy is writing a nonfiction novel about love, authoritarianism, and rebellion in 20th century Portugal. She won a BCA BRIO fellowship in 2005 for a collection of short stories about her family’s history. Kennedy directed the 2010 Sarah Lawrence College Poetry Festival, the largest free poetry festival in New York State. Her poetry appears in Underwater New York, an online anthology. Kennedy won a Pulitzer for spot reporting in 1992 for her team covering of the Union Square subway crash. She majored in foreign policy and diplomacy at Brown University and has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College.