Archive

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.

Dread Beach by Cate Marvin

It’s a kill myself kind of day,
the sun itself refusing to lend
its flattering light to the skin
that makes my face, its eyes
set as facets to gaze on a sea
churning its organs up upon
the shore lit beneath a hurt,

where the gassy water’s salt
fattens and deposit its small
wealth of dead crabs clawless
among stunted mussel shells,
beach glass the worn lip from
Mad Dog, and someone’s lost
his pants three times by three

wave-worn rocks, by the pyre
of piss-filled gatorade bottles,
discarded tampon applicators,
two combs jagged with teeth.
I died here once. Before nothing
mattered. So I pocket sea glass.
In another life, it’d have cut my

thigh.  But all that’s here rusts.
A grocery cart estranged upon
rock.  Mattress coils deranged
with fishing net, and the plastic
bunting that once plied hospital
beds is now a white zipper twist
round a pylon staking remnant

pavement to sand this worn-at
children’s hospital a someone
said let the sea take away so as
not to have to cart its ugly onto
the inland.  And when the dead
began to matter was when my
wrists began to stagger, beach-

comb sea-glass. Dragging their
blood-nets all over. Back then,
I got my gift of fading into walls
simply by leaning. First time I
saw him, I knew I’d been done in.
See, your salt-crumpled pants
legs dead as sea crabs, thick tar

muddle glued beneath sun next
to a tire rind, that half full bottle
of Visine lying on sand in wait as
if to proffer its saline kisses to my
driest eye: froth your terrible past!
O, but if you only knew. Back then,
I was so much better at being dead.


Cate Marvin’s first book of poems, World’s Tallest Disaster, was chosen by Robert Pinksy for the 2000 Kathryn A. Morton Prize and published by Sarabande Books in 2001. In 2002, she received the Kate Tufts Discovery Prize. She is co-editor with poet Michael Dumanis of the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (Sarabande Books, 2006). Her second book of poems, Fragment of the Head of a Queen, for which she received a Whiting Award, was published by Sarabande in 2007. She teaches poetry writing at Columbia University’s MFA Program and Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program, and is an associate professor in creative writing in the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. She is co-founder of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, an organization with the mission to  explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities.