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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.

To the Thirsty I Will Give Water by Alex Dimitrov

OBJECT: Volvo 

BODY OF WATER: Gowanus Canal

 

Yesterday morning while I read Montaigne
a man drove his car into the Gowanus canal.

I have never seen a greater monster or miracle
than myself, Montaigne wrote in the late 16th century.

It was a bright day.
The sun forgave no one.

Not even the firefighter who first saw
the car taken by the water while he was praying,

lighting a cigarette, remembering his lover’s face—
what was he doing, what did he think of before diving in?

It is not death, it is dying
that alarms me, Montaigne tells us.

Because he swallowed enough black water during the rescue
the firefighter was given two Hepatitis B shots afterward.

The man who lost his car was given his life back.
We were given Montaigne’s heart

which is preserved in the parish church named after him
in the southwest of France.

We were given more than we can drown.


Alex Dimitrov is the author of Begging for It, published by Four Way Books. He is also the founder of Wilde Boys, a queer poetry salon in New York City. Dimitrov’s poems have been published in PoetryThe Yale Review, Kenyon ReviewSlatePoetry DailyTin HouseBoston Review, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize in 2011. He is also the author of American Boys, an e-chapbook published by Floating Wolf Quarterly in 2012. Dimitrov is the Content Editor at the Academy of American Poets, teaches creative writing at Rutgers University, and frequently writes for Poets & Writers.