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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.

The Word for the River that Takes from the River by Matthew Zingg

 OBJECT: Animal Bones

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay

 

When the cars on the overpass      see me

it will be          out of context—knee deep in a bay
lined with horse bones         sorting my nets

as one prepares the body for sleep.

To the jet trails          more of the same—

they look on me as the half moon shape
before anything         incomplete
the broken mix of shale and millstone

the marbled sound floor.

I’ve been told good legs carry a good man
but the catch says none of this—

Each loose vertebrae snagged with the bluefish
brine eaten and amnesiac.

The jawbones unanswered.
I pretend        to believe in marrow

in the muck boots and waders
in the open cast         to the plainspoken cooler.
I walk through the channel depths

a blind man with alien feet          my body
a body by namesake.


Matthew Zingg’s work has appeared in Cider Press Review, Opium Magazine, The Madison Review and The Awl among others. He received his MFA in poetry from Adelphi University and is a co-founding member of the writers collective, 1441.