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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.

Written in the Air by George Estreich

OBJECT: Dead Giraffe

BODY OF WATER: Lower New York Bay

 

And everything in the river was reassembled

into a shining plane that surfaced,

its wings dripping light, and headed west:

the giraffe rinsed clean of its spots,

skin, bones, and heart, immaculate

at last; the real cars and the toy cars and the parts

they became and what became

of the parts, a vast becoming,

axles freed of rotation, bones of position,

everything polished and dissociated and new,

above the city and heading west

like a visible vanishing point,

the torn edge of a wing trailing long silver threads,

the fat nacelles leaving no vapor trail,

only a long flume of altered clarity

like the glass in an old house

where the daylight moon wavers, then solidifies.

It is going west, with everything lost, it is heading home.

I would like to be aboard, but my heart is in the river. 


George Estreich’s memoir about raising a daughter with Down syndrome, The Shape of the Eye, won the 2012 Oregon Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. His prose has been published in The Open Bar, Biopolitical Times,The Oregonian, Salon, and The New York Times. He lives in Oregon with his family.