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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.

Cages by Arden Levine

OBJECT: Birdcage

BODY OF WATER: Gowanus Canal

 

My mother collected antique birdcages. Nature abhors a vacuum
so we filled the cages, first with budgerigars and canaries. They died

and we filled the cages again, with exotic finches that my father chose
and a pair of lovebirds (that detested one another). They died

and we filled the cages again with a grey-cheeked parakeet and a long-
tailed beauty (that didn’t live a year and had the solemnity of a widow).

 My father vacuumed the floor beneath the cages and the parakeet
shrieked, shrieked, shrieked: “Abhor! Abhor! Abhor!” My father died

and we didn’t fill the cages again. We moved, we put the cages
in storage, we moved, we put the cages in the basement. We filled

the basement with other things and discarded the cages. I saw a cage
in the canal: the canal had filled the cage with silt and branches.

The water slapped          slapped                slapped:
                                           Abhor.                  Abhor.                                 Abhor.

 


Arden Levine lives in Brooklyn and is a reader for Epiphany.  In 2015, her poems have been or will be featured in AGNI, Rattle, The Delmarva Review, Bodega Magazine, Emotive Fruition, the NYC Poetry Festival, and elsewhere.  Arden holds an MPA from New York University and consults to nonprofit organizations.