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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.

Dreamland, 1911 by Conley Lowrance

OBJECT: Dreamland

BODY OF WATER: Coney Island

 

Perhaps this chain of events amounts to nothing

more than a malfunction: one million light bulbs

bursting in succession, a fire spreading rapidly

through the landscape of lath buildings.

 

In the avenues, one-armed men search

for phantom limbs & an actress covered in ash

rows her gondola across the boardwalk. Nearby,

a lion rushes through throngs of bystanders

but kills only a single cop.

                   I move through

the crowds with a piece of marquee lodged

in my ear. In the distance, a train derails

from its tracks: no passengers, no survivors—

another accident reaching its logical conclusion,

another carnival burning slowly into the sea. 


Conley Lowrance began writing poetry after an aborted career in punk rock. His interest in lyrics and subculture literature eventually led him to the University of Virginia’s poetry writing program where he received his BA. His poems been published by Tupelo Press, The Glasgow Review of Books, Gadfly, Columbia University’s Catch and Release, and Counterexample Poetics. Currently, he is exploring the intersection of Surrealist poetry and detective fiction and working at Columbia University’s Heyman Center for the Humanities. Follow him @ConleyLowrance.