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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.

Callisto's Flowers, via Dead Horse Bay by Mary Catherine Kinniburgh

OBJECT: Red Rose and Carnations 

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay

 

Pink wind, cold sun. In this quiet light,

you watch her roam the bay. You produce

a solitary prayer—bodega rose, talisman.

 

She walks along the bones, ghosts of horses

etched on the frozen sand.

Imagine, you whisper, a coast

 

filled with yearning birds and her hair.

Wielding her limbs like loosed carnations

as you observe: the flowers drop along the shoreline.

 

When you retreat homeward, you affirm:

there is nothing in this life you want more

than to please yourself, and at night—sub rosa

 

you remove pieces of glass from a lonely jar,

placing them into the auric constellations

you’d like to turn her into


Mary Catherine Kinniburgh is a doctoral student at the City University of New York Graduate Center, where she studies medieval mysticism and imaginative landscapes. When she’s buried deep in the library, she writes poems too. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and four rescue cats.