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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.

Kangamouse by Matthea Harvey

OBJECTKangamouse

BODY OF WATERDead Horse Bay

mattheakanga.png

This is what the Last Ones left us.

After the Era of Flood and after the Era

of Fire, we creep into the Central Clusters

and rifle through the rubble. From the top

of a cliff, two pink eyes and one pale ear beckon.

The Wordsplitter names the creature

Kangamouse, Male. It is not one of their BeWiths,

which were almost universally furred,

nor a ListenTo, since he makes no sound,

nor is there a mention of Kangamouse

in the Aesop’s Fables found in a Ziplock

in Zone Twelve some twenty years ago.

We still cannot make a Ziplock, but we know

all about Morals—try before you trust and

might makes right. We try to tease one out.

If a “mouse” can make its home in a hole, are we

to understand we will live on without the sun?

If the “kangaroo” keeps its children in a pocket,

is it wise to keep our Gimmes close too though

they wail and steal our food? Perhaps Kangamouse

has something to do with their mysterious notion of “Play”—

a type of waiting for sunset that involved throwing

spheres and grimacing. He may well be yet another

Withholder, since when we press on his button,

like all the other Gods we’ve found and abandoned,

nothing happens. Night makes light we murmur, and look

up at the sky with the face the Last Ones called Hope.


Matthea Harvey is the author of Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf, 2004) and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000). Her third book of poems, Modern Life (Graywolf, 2007) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Cirlcle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. Her first children’s book, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel, is forthcoming from Tin House Books. Matthea is a contributing editor to jubilatMeatpaper and BOMB. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn.