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.

Three Poems from Night Crossing by Kelly Sullivan

This work was created during the WoW/UNY Governors Island Residency. Kelly Sullivan was in residence on Governors Island from October 15-31, 2018.


Say nothing is boring. Say there is no where
we cannot find the husk of something
and dig its fine lining, the white thread up
the cicadas’ split trunk. Say there are forty-

five words for the way a helicopter’s rotor blade
fucks up this city. Say we have a job to do,
a field to cull, a closet to open and inside, bees,

woven through the fabric of the wall. Say there are
five or six small tricks we use to fix the planet’s
last gasp, and when we do we open up

ourselves. Then cleave. Split against the grain, move
sideways through the narrow pass, divide
and divide, rehash, repeat, announce a line or two

of industry inside these walls. The plaster falls.
Reveal the grid of honeybees, each cell full
to dripping, each insect’s eye divided to a thousand

tiny globes as if, in concentration, we could
replicate their quiet production, split
and make our own planet again and again, dripping

with the richness of it. Say, then, we just
move on to the next, another range of mountains,
blush of leaves across the cooler hip,

another split river carving out a canyon
for a helicopter to explode in sound. Shut
your mouth on that. We know it is not pass on and pass

on but slowly rising glacier melt. The elm outside
survived disease in the shelter of the island’s
isolated belt. An archipelago of human craft

engulfing it with cells of city blocks, apartments,
windows. Our eyes to the glass. Hands pressed
against it. Just one place. Cleave tight and don’t let go.

Coat Without a Body

Distended to the left, one sleeve
half-tucked at the cuff, dirty
around the collar and ripped
at the edge. Did the man stand up
and walk to the ledge
and leave? Did the woman
take her husband’s coat
when she came across, her night
journey cold, the waves rocking
the small wooden craft?
Is it left at rest, or to rot, moth-
eaten, a drip of paint across
the seam. The brass buttons
gone green.

Styrofoam Stone After the Nor’Easter

Washed up with a line
of dreck. Thrown across
a wooden deck, a wave
of rubbish, human packing
swept in a sheet
of slick dross. A couple
takes turns photographing
each other with
this bridge
spanning the sky. Storm
surge over at three. It’s
going dark
and sand grits
against our feet. I kick
the styrofoam stone
and watch it catch the wind
and blow back in.

Artist Statement: These three poems —“Cleave,” “Coat Without a Body,” and “Styrofoam Stone”—were written for a collection in progress, titled Night Crossing (previously Toledo Blade), a book that explores crossings—rivers, dreams, countries, borders, climates.

Kelly Sullivan is a writer and academic living in New York City. She teaches Irish Studies at New York University. Find more about her at