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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.

Sound Navigation by Katie Naughton

OBJECT: Surveillance System

BODY OF WATER: New York Harbor

 

For you it’s easy the slip the darkness me
my bones glow like gunshots on the wharf.

Before I even ask what are you swimming for
before I let slip a mess of wires out of my mouth

into the water. I get the sense someone is watching
for us I get the sense I should keep my mouth shut

when you kiss me this time swim off into the bay.
Put my ear to the planks and listen to water

pleating itself brackish in the pilings you weave
in by strokes kicking off the wires naked in the waves.

Want to follow you to that dry place below the bridge
where your chest is a paper lantern. Want to be gone

by the time the echo lets me know what you shouted
up to the train when it goes loud over the bridge.

If I get there if you make it back from if someone doesn’t
I would climb the tower dampen my luminous bones

in dressed-up flesh drop a handful of nickels down
in the river make a cloud of sound you could escape again.


Katie Naughton lives in Brooklyn. She writes about science for kids and others, and is looking forward to bike-to-the-Rockaways season. She can be reached at kathleen.e.naughton (at) gmail (dot) com