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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.

Yoga on the Sound with Karen by Vincent DiGirolamo

A note from the writer: This one came out of a workshop with Lisa Jarnot, who astutely noted that it has the same rhyme and meter as Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."  A happy accident.


BODY OF WATER: Port Jefferson Harbor

 

A rainbow of mats on weathered gray slats

         at the end of a jutting pier.

Salt air incense, lapping-water chimes,

         the harbor our studio mirror.

Like sandpipers we stand, one-leg tucked,

         eyes fixed on bobbing white hulls.

Bellies now bend toward a ceiling of cloud,

         odd creatures to high wheeling gulls.

An Azure Blue flutters into view,

         drawn by our Ujjayi breath.

Then Monkey mind leaps to the wharf of my youth

         three thousand miles west.

 

I see papa, forearms thick,

         mending a cork-lined net.

High-booted uncles winch fish by the ton

         and scrub down the slippery deck.

They smoke Lucky Strike, tend bar at night,

         drink Canadian Club on ice.

For exercise they specialize

         in pinochle, bocce, and dice.

I hear them cry, “Vincenzo, che fai?”*

         in steerage voices strong.

What can I say except “Namaste”

         and bow to the ferry’s “Ommm….”

*What are you doing?

 


Vincent DiGirolamo teaches American history at Baruch College. His works include the documentary Monterey’s Boat People, the novel Whispers Under the Wharf, and Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. His poems have appeared in The Haven: New Poetry and the Monterey Herald. He lives in East Setauket, New York.