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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.

In a Way We Were Always Here on the Moon by Julia LoFaso


1.

No need to leave your shoes by the door. Our home has long been open to the outside. Across the water, steel and glass shoot up like rootless trees. And it’s a rare privilege, we realize, to go to seed. We appreciate your visit and aim to be of service.

2.

You have questions, maybe. This house, the one you’re standing in: who built its first fire? This railing, smooth as bone: whose hands have worn it down? We were here when it happened; let’s talk while we still can. One day the crowds will drown us out. No more paint to flake under your fingernails, new floors reinforced against creak and moan. They will sandblast the crumbs that fell from our mouths, lay forgotten under fridges for lifetimes.

3.

We have so much practice at being forgotten. We’ve even taught it to others. Like Collins, circling the moon where other men would land, plant flags. He grew here, on this island, learned the fine art of living in reflected fame. We saw him off with such high hopes, watching the sky from down here. Lunar light enhancing our stereotypical translucence, we were white wisps waving, wiping tears.

Our most famous/not-famous son all grown up! Off piloting a module, satellite to the sparkle. Larger than life but still circumnavigating the spotlight. Is he not our finest example, evidence enough of our expertise? It’s an essential skill to cultivate, being forgotten, the only tool you’ll utilize eternally.

4.

But this place we lived, this place where you stand. It has not forgotten us. It can’t.

A house is water, wood, electricity: a body with aches and ills harboring secrets in its joints. Not ancient manuscripts, necessarily, not treasures, just the exertions of unknown builders’ muscles, the breath of their unknown lungs. Nestled between beams, wires fray, praying for rain and end of days, when they’ll spark and make contact with lightning at last.

Incredibly, there is a fire in every basement. Tamed, for now, in an iron fortress, glowing red to warn you. A line of oil snakes unseen below the street, below the river, a mainline straight to the center of the Earth and all the millions it buried over eons. We run on those fumes, on that haunting. We have nothing or maybe everything to be afraid of.

If you’re rattled, it might help to remind yourself of something.

Anyone can haunt. Everyone does. You haunt your own mother when you leave her body. You haunt that first home for all time.


Julia LoFaso's writing has been published or is forthcoming in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Conjunctions, Underwater New York, Day One, The Southeast Review, and Elm Leaves Journal, among other publications. She has an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University and lives in Queens.