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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 Fish Fisherman Call Trash by Robert Farrell

OBJECT: Fish

BODY OF WATER: Bronx River, Long Island Sound, Sheepshead Bay

 

Are not trash, but fish:

Scup, dogfish, wolf eel, skate; sand dabs, lion fish, monkfish (aka “allmouth;” aka “sea devil”); the sea robin, blood clams, rainbow smelt; leather jacket (Oligoplites saurus), sheepshead, barrelfish, almaco jack;

Triggerfish, pink porgy, spinycheek scorpionfish; finger squid, goldeye tilefish, “the amusingly named” mother-in-law; butterfish, pin bream, mangrove snapper; bigeye, redhorse suckers;

Rosebud seabass; the blue runner, redfish (unusual for giving birth to live young); the lake sturgeon, bowfin, big mouth buffalo, black

Drum, flounder; longtail bass, queen snapper, bull head cats; the white grunt. Whether dragged in nets, hooked on trots, or farm-

Raised; whether bow-shot, by-caught, or reeled: no longer “underappreciated,” but still unappreciated, even, or perhaps especially, by those who value them for “food,” by scientists looking for collagens, sportsmen seeking a challenge, restaurateurs in quest of novel ceviches, hipsters out for kicks, and other motherfuckers

Who would kill and swallow, play locavore, or create a market for the unmarketable, a fashion for the unfashionable, or who say they wish

To eat “low on the food chain,” but not low enough to let them be. And what to do with carp? Do nothing and, like Hippocrates, do no harm.

 

Writer's Statement: Several fish in this poem can be spotted in the waters of New York City beside the bull head catfish and carp, which live in the Bronx River among other places. Starting from City Island in the Bronx, you can find skates, sand dabs, sea robin, and flounder in the submerged bottom habitat of Long Island Sound. In more open waters you’ll find monkfish, dogfish, butterfish, and scup, though not the pink porgy, which is found in warmer waters. People have also seen black drum. The white grunt makes an occasional appearance.  Once plentiful, the sheepshead is still occasionally found in Sheepshead Bay.


Robert Farrell lives and works as a librarian in the Bronx, New York. His essays have appeared in various publications including photographer Erik Madigan Heck's Nomenus Quarterly. He will be attending the Ashbery Home School poetry workshop in the summer of 2015.