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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.

Eels Swim by Aileen Bassis

OBJECTEels

BODY OF WATER: Bronx River

 

eels swim in the rivers around the Bronx

my home, the Bronx where the

shanties stood once

by the river and people fish

eels and fires flared up

from big tin barrels

 

i was there by the river in the Bronx

and a passing barge made waves

that knocked me down and my shoes

were all wet and my backside

and I sat on hard rocks

in wet underwear and waited for

the bridge to open and let

big boats through and under

the highbridge while the tower

the tower pealed out songs

to mark an end each day


Aileen Bassis is a visual artist and poet, living in Jersey City, NJ. Her artwork has been widely exhibited across the US. Her interest in book arts has led her to writing poetry. Her work can be read online at Mobius: The Journal of Social Change and will be at Eunoia Review in the fall.