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.

From Islands by Kelly Sullivan

Kelly Sullivan wrote this poem for an event in collaboration with Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess. See pictures and read more about it here.

OBJECT: Currents and Tides


At low tide on Easter Sunday we walk the donkeys
across an chois, the step, to Straw Island, the one time of the year
when new moon and sun converge to make the aquatic
almost terrestrial. The donkeys graze for three months
on marram grass and vetch, birth their foals, drink rain water left
in angled rocks except some years someone forgets
we’ve left them there and drought or storms or geography
constrict so they are half-starved, parched, and try their best
to swim. In 1974 we found their skeletons scattered across
the ground, dry as desert. An chois — the step — because
to step across from Inishmore to the island of straw rests in principle
on the fact that bodies in gravitational pull grow stronger
the closer they come together. And Easter an ancient celebration
of the rising year, when we shift our balance back to day.
Just a step between coming together or falling away.

This poem derives in large part from a beautiful passage in Tim Robinson’s Stones of Aran Pilgrimage in which he explains the gravitational forces underlying tidal movement, and the practice of taking donkeys out to graze on Straw Island off Inishmore, accessible by sandbar only at the lowest tide of the year. --Kelly Sullivan

Kelly Sullivan’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Salmagundi, Poetry Ireland Review, Southword, and elsewhere. She published a novel, Winter Bayou, in Ireland in 2005. She teaches Irish literature at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House.