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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.

Wonder by Robert Brown

BODY OF WATER: Atlantic Ocean 

You dive off the boat tank first.
The flippered feet lie flat then flip
a half circle, like a rush hour fuel gauge
falling from Full to Empty. The fall

should stop on the ocean surface,
but this once I carried too many weights,
and I crashed through 70 feet of sea
water at nine and a half knots,

kicking my fins against the fall,
backwards into my own garden of

seaweed swinging like party streamers,
connecting finally to the the ocean floor.
I nearly stepped on, but did not see,
two crabs pinching claws at one another,

their spidery legs stirring silt, engraving
a cyrillic calligraphy into the dense sand–
an ordinary wonder like an inch-thick
wetsuit and how it compresses at depth,

squeezing me from boot to hood,
or my aluminum air tank, manmade

from melted metal, and how it sinks
softly into my shoulders. I took a deep
breath—of air, 70 feet south of the ocean
surface—I saw and ignored a 7-legged

starfish, and I flipped the release latch
on my weight belt so that it fell to the floor
and I fell upward. I fought against my fall,
again, my ascension this time, trying to slow

down as the water turned from grey to jade,
and my sinuses and ears popped.

The air in my lungs expanded from a deep breath
taken under great pressure so I could breathe out

while my lungs filled up, a banal miracle—like air
travel, printing presses, syringes, cellular

phones: baskets for unending loaves and fishes—
I'm always too mixed up to appreciate.

 


Robert grew up with a hundred-dozen-an-hour donut machine in his basement and has lived in some of the great donut cities in America*, so it's no small thing that his favorite part about coming to NYC, besides the esoterica dredged from the waterways, is the preponderance of great donut shops.

*Los Angeles, Seattle, and Washington DC