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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.

Glass City vs. Bottle Beach by Julia LoFaso

OBJECTS: Bottles, Horse Bones

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay


 

I once went to a New Year’s Eve party whose host, a burlesque dancer, handed each guest a dinner plate
to smash against a brick wall. I’ve never seen a roomful of people so suddenly awake, so reborn. Of course
that was years ago, before we lost Brooklyn, before they came for Queens.  

This city has a habit of killing its ghosts, but it hasn’t kept up with your haunting.
Even the water hasn’t managed to turn your bottles back to sand.  

Patti Smith protect us. Richard Hell forgive us. Lou Reed let us never forget your ripped nylons, your
drunken plans, how you woke up every morning to eviscerate horses to bone. We want to know how you
failed or succeeded at surviving whatever your life was. But even now, I don’t. All I can do is stab at truth,
waving a bottle, letting it fly, waiting for the head-clearing satisfaction of hearing it break. 

Because we don’t fear wilderness but its opposite: the stripping of secrets, the bleaching of bones, the
relentless building of buildings.

Because we don’t fear Batman but Bruce Wayne: champagne, handshake, deals
behind closed doors.

Warriors, come out to play. Bring back a little reckless to this brave new city. 

We’ve made it to the beach before you. We’re hiding in plain sight, magnified. So slow they can’t see us,
so low they’d never dream of our iridescence. But we are always here, always inching, always covering
ground. We are scrolled messages, signs, and you will come to read us. 

 


Julia LoFaso's writing has appeared in McSweeney's Internet Tendency, Conjunctions, and The Southeast Review, among other publications. One of her stories was a finalist in The Southeast Review's 2013 World's Best Short-Short Story Contest. She has an MFA from Columbia University and lives in Queens. 

Because Water is Dutch for Water by Nicole Haroutunian

OBJECTS: Horse bones, Bottles, Shoes

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay


Editors' note: This story was written for Underwater New York's January 24 event at Winter Shack, a temporary exhibition space designed by Alex Branch and Nicole Antebi, who curate a series of site-specific installations/readings/exhibitions that encourage audiences to engage with one another's work and to build community in the darkest hours of the year.  


 

“Do you like the wine?” he asks and I swirl it, waft it towards my nose. 

“It’s oaky,” I say. “Or maybe I taste peat. Do you detect, what, a note of jam?”

Why do I flinch at his dimples? It’s his blue eyes, too, his complete edgelessness. I’ve never liked someone without a fight.

“Does that mean no?” he asks.

“In this case,” I say, “it means yes. But don’t think that’s what I always mean.”

Tomorrow, my coworker Jenny will throw her stapler at me. She’ll say, I heard how you behaved. He blushes and I say I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m just nervous, I tell him, and drink down that very good wine. 

He leans back in his chair to make room for the waiter to place a slab of lasagna in front of him. I receive my bowl of red-sauced gnocchi. Not that I didn’t want the blind date to be over too, as soon as it began, but still I was surprised when he ordered first and went right to the entrees. Who skips appetizers just like that? It was my fault it started off so poorly. I kept insisting that we’d met before. Jenny’s birthday? That barbecue at her brother’s? He got frustrated. No, he said. We’ve never met.

“So what did Jenny tell you about me?” I ask him, chewing a rubbery nub of pasta.

He plucks a strand of cheese, almost daintily, from his chin. “That you were her smartest coworker and have long brown hair. That you like to take pictures in your spare time. Oh, and that you’re thirty-two.”

I nod. “I think she covered everything. You know what she told me about you?”

“Probably that I’m not her smartest cousin and I’m in finance. And I’m twenty-nine.”

“Nope,” I say. “All she said was, ‘you’ll thank me.’”

“That’s really all?” he asks. He shifts in his seat and pours us more wine. I suddenly understand.

“You,” I say, feeling my body start to make a few adjustments as recognition dawns. I lean in across the table and study his bland, handsome face, less bland by the second. “Now I know where I know you from.”

He grimaces and nods, as if accepting the inevitability of it all. “Was it the Post?” he asks. “AM New York?”

“All of that,” I say. “The TV news, too.”

He puts down his fork. “People like you still watch the news on television?” he asks.

Part of my brain screams, people like me? while the other part is the one that says aloud, “Don’t tell me you’re embarrassed.” 

“I mean, no,” he says. “But I didn’t expect it to be such a…thing. All the interviews. I don’t know.”

I hold my arm over my face as if to block the paparazzi. “No pictures, no pictures!” I cry. He forces a smile and I feel like I should change my tune. “But really. You literally saved lives. It’s amazing.”

Now that I recognize him, it’s hard to even see him clearly. He’s dematerialized by all the associations I have with him, swirling and blurring and pixelating him. Bennett is New York City’s latest folk hero.

I’m not one to click on these amateur videos when they pop up online, but this one was unavoidable. It starts off following a tugboat on the Hudson, chugging along behind an improbably massive garbage barge. It’s both adorable and grotesque, the herculean effort exerted by that little ship in service of all of our trash.

Then there’s a flurry of activity in the bottom left corner of the video. On rewind, it’s a woman leaning on the railing beside the water. She’s unremarkable—not perched on a precipice, not teetering on a ledge. But then—then!—she hoists something into the air, something she’d been holding in front of her, and, with effort, hurls it into the water. As it makes its short, quick descent, it forms, there, in the air, into a baby. 

The camera phone operator, it’s clear, doesn’t notice. There’s no audible splash; the camera doesn’t waver. But then, Bennett enters the frame, jogging, almost the same instant the baby appears and disappears. He’s running straight and then makes a seamless right turn, sprinting to the edge of the river as the woman—the mother—goes up and over the railing. He disappears into the water, literally on her heels. It is so fluid it seems almost choreographed.

Bennett blinks, forks lasagna into his mouth. He shrugs. “I know it’s cliché, but anyone would have done it. It was a baby for god sakes.”

Does he get, in that moment, even more handsome? He does.

“I saw a man step in front of a bus once,” I tell him. “He was standing on the curb, just a normal guy dressed in a khaki colored coat and dress shoes. I’m not sure if this is a trick of memory or what, but I feel like I remember thinking, right before it happened, that he was about to do it.”

“Do you often have psychic episodes?” Bennett asks.

I squint. “Do you?”

He finishes his lasagna and shakes his head, his eyes twinkling. Thank goodness, I think, it wasn’t a serious question. But then he gets serious. “Wait, so what happened to the guy?”

“Well, he died,” I say, taking a long swallow of wine to get the gnocchi down. “There’s a reason you were the one of the two of us in the newspaper.”

“I hear the tiramisu is good here,” he says.  

 

After we leave the restaurant, we walk, aimless, up Vanderbilt. We split the bill but he let me have almost all of the dessert, so I have no idea where we stand. The night is new-summer warm; no one’s sick of the heat yet. 

“I could stay outside forever if the weather was always like this,” I say.

Bennett nods. “I’m from Maine, so.”

I don’t know what this means, but assume he’s agreeing with me. I want to grab his hand, so I do.

“There has to be a word for it,” I say, tilting my head up as a delicious breeze stirs around us. “Maybe in one of those languages where they combine a sentence worth of words into one. Something like: mildsweetnight.”

“In Dutch,” he says, “I think it would be mildsweetnacht.” A city bus is hurtling up the road, as city buses are wont to do, and, as if we hadn’t just been having a nice time, he jolts towards it, towards the street. He’s not that close, but I unclasp my hand. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Obviously, he stops short of the bus.

I fold my arms and we walk in silence. I’m going to let Jenny have it tomorrow.

I realize Bennett has been leading me in the direction of the subway stop at the corner. We pause in front of it and he says, “So you really wouldn’t have saved me?” I think he’s laughing but I can’t tell.

“I mean, if you were in real danger,” I mumble.

He’s three steps down into the train station before he says, “You coming?”

 

It turns out that a New York City hero’s apartment is much like the apartment of any other random twenty-nine year old guy who works in finance. It’s nicer than mine, to be sure, and he doesn’t have a roommate, which is a blessing, but there’s an expensive flat screen television positioned across from a blue futon that must be a college artifact, and the potted tree in the corner is halfway to dead. It’s tidy, though, I’ll give him that.

“Can I get your cleaning lady’s info?” I ask and he says okay, before pausing and saying, “What, you don’t think I could sustain this level of hygiene myself?”

“If it were me,” I say, “I’d have that Post cover story framed on the wall.”

“You and my mom both,” he says, which isn’t the most auspicious start, but we wind up on said futon, and our clothes end up on the dustless floor. Now I think that Jenny will be mad at me for a whole other reason. “What, you’re going to date after doing that?” she’ll say.

After, I just assume that he’s going to hand me my clothes and my purse, but then again, he’s not New York’s latest hero for nothing. “For sleeping,” he says, gesturing to his room, “I think the bed will be more comfortable.”

Streetlights stream in through his window, illuminating the spare room a sunset orange. I check the time—it’s two a.m. I turn and peer at Bennett, whose head is half-sunken into his very plush pillow. “You know what would have really impressed me?” I ask.

He looks nervous. “Not about the sex,” I say, and he relaxes. “About the rescue. What would have impressed me is if it was one of the scary New York waterways. The Hudson, that’s well trod territory. What if it had been, you know, the Gowanus Canal? Spuyten Duyvil? Dead Horse Bay?”

He brushes a piece of hair from my face and leaves his hand tangled there. “Dead Horse Bay,” he says. “What on earth is that?” 

What should I say? Bennett is a man who pulls living things from the water, but at Dead Horse Bay, it’s the bleached, bare bones of the horses once rendered there that draw people like me to the shore. I take pictures of them, and of last century’s trash strewn across the sand, still spilling from a burst landfill cap. “It used to be called Barren Island,” I say. “Because barren is Dutch for bear.” Then I close my eyes because barren is a worse word to say in bed than dead, than horse.

Bennett says, “I think you mean barrenislandnacht, sweetbarrenislandnacht.”

I open my eyes and, in this orange light, I can imagine us picking our way across Dead Horse Bay, the grey sand, the woody, striated horse bones, the rounded lips of milk bottles, the salt-water soaked leather shoes. Maybe I’d throw out my arm and stop him just as he was about to land, tender-footed, on a tetanal iron nail protruding from a weather-cracked wooden plank.

Goodnacht,” we say.

                                            


Nicole Haroutunian is an editor of Underwater New York. 

Dead Horse Bay by Adel Souto


I read about Dead Horse Bay while researching odd spots in NYC for my blog, This Hidden City. I had to see it for myself, and visited on Halloween, a little after low tide ended. It was a mild, but windy day. I parked too far, and it took forever for me to find an entrance to the bay. While I did take a few photos, I could hardly believe what I had seen. I returned with my girlfriend the following week, at the most extreme low tide. It was a colder, though less ominous day. I knew my way around this time, and did a bit more exploring. These photos are from both visits.


Adel Souto is a Cuban-born artist, writer, and musician, currently living in Brooklyn. He has released several books, including a “best of” chapbook on the subject of a 30-day vow of silence, and has also translated the works of Spanish poets. His work has been shown in galleries in NYC, Philadelphia, and Miami, as well as in Europe and South America. His music videos have been screened at NYC’s Anthology Film Archives, and he has lectured on the subject of occult influences in photography at NYU's Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development's Department of Art and Art Professions. He currently produces the public access TV show, Brooklyn’s Alright If You Like Saxophones.

Meditations on Dérive and Grief by Cynthia Ann Schemmer


I call out that I’ve found a bone, a spinal vertebra perhaps, and I begin to pull away the seaweed and sand crabs from where the marrow once was. The friend I've brought here appears at my side and I hand him the horse bone. He turns it over in his hand; it looks more like wood than bone from years of being tossed and aged in the bay. We keep pawing through the broken bottles and tinker toys littering the shore and find a very bone looking bone: long and thin in the middle and bulbous on the ends, like a dog toy or a bone you’d see in a cartoon. We are preoccupied with this carnal treasure hunt. We have done the remarkable: we have found a certain joy in death.

Dead Horse Bay is in South Brooklyn, right before the Marine Parkway to the Rockaways. There is a path, entered from congested Flatbush Avenue, which leads you to the waterfront. The bay is kept hushed behind a ten-minute walk through thick blades of grass and twisted canopies of tree branches that cradle nests.  The warm breeze keeps things swaying to the panicked call of the red-winged blackbird, and though I haven’t seen one yet I know that they are out there. I’ve found blue curl, Queen Ann’s lace, the long-legged great blue heron, and weeping lovegrass along the walk. Eventually the grass and trees bow away and there you are, at the mouth of the bay, given its name by the horses processed into glue and fertilizer there during the 19th century. The boiled bones were expelled into the water.

Since the horses, more of the city’s refuse has wound up in the bay. There are dolls and other toys, milk bottles and green vials I imagine once contained elixers, potions. Inside some of the bottles are homes; I lift a cap-less Mason jar and examine its insides: crabs crawling through entangled and hairy roots the color of bile. They make do in this unnatural landscape while we crawl through and examine a hollowed out speedboat. I pick up a large brown jug with the word “Rose-X” embossed on the side, a beautifully named rat poison, and decide to take it home to create a vase. Bones are harder to come by; aged and rusty brown, they are camouflaged in the sand.

We’ve come here in the middle of summer, 95 degrees in Brooklyn, and we are young and broke. We spend our time on bicycles, finding things to do that don’t require money, exploring and figuring out this city we often feel so confused in. We seek the bones, the remains of places and beings that no longer exist, as an attempt to renew our affection for this city and understand what came before. I want to keep these hidden histories nestled in my skull and on a shelf above my bed rest my findings: the Rose-X, three green and brown vials, a lumbar vertebra, and a first phalange all next to a photograph of my mother, whose death prompted me to explore this place in the first place.

On Flatbush Avenue, as we leave Dead Horse Bay behind, our ears pulse with car horns, my sides drip with sweat, and I hear someone catcall. We walk past a group of young boys on bikes who ride by the path to the bay; I turn around to see if they make the turn, but they don’t. I think this path is missed everyday.

In the 1950s, Guy Debord theorized the concept of psychogeography, the study of the effects of urban geography on our emotions and behaviors. In his essay, “Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography,” Debord makes a list of the neglected phenomena of urban experience: “The sudden change of ambiance in a street within the space of a few meters; the evident division of a city into zones of distinct psychic atmospheres; the path of least resistance that is automatically followed in aimless strolls (and which has no relation to physical contour of the terrain); the appealing or repelling character of certain places…”  One act of psychogeography is urban exploration, the act of exploring your environment, natural or manmade; it is examining the normally unseen or off limit sections of an urban area and preserving history by a physical act. Philibert Aspairt, one of the earliest urban explorers, vanished in 1793. He had been exploring the Parisian catacombs, a buried cemetery contained within Paris’ underground quarries, by wavering candlelight; a precarious guide in that honeycomb of skulls. The missing features of the faces were illuminated in the grave hush of the tunneled tomb: bottomless eyes and upside down black hearts where noses once bulged. He moved quickly. A key ring jangled. A way was lost. And then, the light went out. 

Aspairt’s body was found eleven years after he disappeared. Withered to the bone and mingling with the rest of the catacomb residents, his body was identified only by his keys to the Val De Grace, the French military hospital where he worked as the gatekeeper during the French Revolution.  He is recognized as the earliest cataphile in history. Perhaps Aspairt’s reason for entering the underground cemetery is why we explore the ruins of our own cities today: no heart beats forever and no home is eternal.

*

Bart helps me into the canoe. He is thin, with jowls that swing from the bottom of his neck and white hair that hangs from under his baseball cap that reads, “The Gowanus Dredgers.” He volunteers here, at the Gowanus Canal, where he educates Brooklyn residents about the waterway by means of rowing. I step carefully onboard and sit in the front of the canoe, staring at the foamy water.

“Isn’t it nice to have such accessible nature right here in Brooklyn?” Bart asks as he kicks the canoe from the dock and I float away. A crumpled Frito Lay bag drifts alongside the canoe.

“How many people canoe the canal?” I ask.

“We expect around two thousand this season. Our biggest crowd yet.”

This is my first time in a canoe. It’s quiet as I move past the houseboats, one of which has charming lace curtains in the windows. Bart will later tell me that this is “Jerko the Gowanus Water Vacuum,” a salvaged houseboat that serves as a show space for do-it-yourself sustainability projects. I continue past and find a great egret standing atop a rotting barge, demolished cars stacked like silverware along the shore, a pussy willow releasing its gray blossoms into the edges of the canal and empty silos and heaps of trash casting shadows. The used condom count rises to eight.

There is no way to know this now, in this moment on the Gowanus, but in a year I will find myself canoeing on a river in Alabama with my Uncle Joe, my mother’s brother and the sole surviving member of her immediate family. The environment will be completely unlike Brooklyn: we will float through the emerald waters in which we will see the rocky bottom, laugh into the vast blue sky, and breathe in fresh air. But my intentions are no different. I will ask him about my mother’s youth, to learn about her younger days in Brooklyn, the stories and memories that will disappear when he too is gone. Here, in and about New York, I do the same as I collect all of these abandoned stories before they join my mother and her past. 

I can’t help but be intrigued by this grotesque urban “nature,” but when you get right down to it, the Gowanus Canal is toxic. It is known to be contaminated with typhoid, typhus, cholera, and even traces of gonorrhea. When I get back to the dock, Bart tells me that the Gowanus Dredgers hope that the canal, a Superfund site, will one day provide oysters like it did centuries ago. I think this over as I look into the pearly oil rainbow below and am quite certain that I will never eat anything that comes out of the Gowanus. Some things are ruined forever.

*         

The emotional response I have to New York often falters.  My favorite waterfront haunt is only beautiful until I remember that I will never be able to swim in the East River. The pixilated skyline on a clear night has only a pathetic marquee of sparse stars. And the new is constantly replacing the old. I walk and observe the ever-evolving city: tear it down, rebuild, repeat. But it is the overlooked or unknown terrains, small pockets of the crumbled and decayed, which keep me on foot and looking for more. It’s history not contained in a museum for a price and a crowd. It is independent and solitary, resistant and waiting to be found. This is my personal version of Debord’s concept of dérive, which means to explore one’s surroundings without preconceptions or limits. He believed that happiness comes from creative life experiences: “…wanderings that express not subordination to randomness but complete insubordination to habitual influences…” 

Consider this: paths do not always need to be followed and we creatures of habit can break our ritual ways of everyday.

I live only blocks away from where my mother was born as I write this. She grew up in a small railroad apartment with a fig tree growing outside the fire escape and a family of gypsies in the apartment below (or so my uncle tells me.) He said they could smell the hops from the Schaeffer Brewery that once existed on Kent Avenue between South 9th and 10th streets. The apartment was also a few blocks away from the now defunct Domino Sugar Factory, another place I found myself exploring upon moving to Brooklyn just one month after my mother's death. These are the streets I live in and wander, without preconceptions or expectations. I choose the ruins of the city because I myself feel ruined, stripped of my mother too soon. I feel most content in these places that thrived when she was young and alive, no matter how grief-stricken they, and I, may be.  

*

I walk the plank; a splintered piece of plywood guides me over the swampy landfill, littered with empty beer bottles and lost shoes in Arthur Kill, Staten Island. I am headed to an unusual graveyard, only a couple of hundred feet from the cemeteries Joseph Mitchell wandered. The ship graveyard provides a final resting place for scuttled tugboats and steamers. There is no path to get to the waterfront to view the dilapidated vessels, so one has to walk along Arthur Kill Road, a narrow street spotted with abandoned fishing shops and taverns that run parallel to the Arthur Kill. After the shops comes a boating dock and a small wooden house, where, rumor has it, a fisherman will chase you with a shotgun if he finds you trespassing on his property. Beyond the dock and the danger is a rusty rainbow: blue, purple, pink, green and the typical rust orange all cover the ships like a jewel-toned watercolor painting. The ships float in an endless purgatory, half submerged in Arthur Kill. Some are just skeletons, planks of wood jutting out like broken ribs. Others are in a less sorry state and may become donors of parts. 

In her book, “The Future of Nostalgia,” Svetlana Boym wrote, “In the nineteenth century the nostalgic was an urban dweller who dreamed of escape from the city into the unspoiled landscape. At the end of the twentieth century the urban dweller feels that the city itself is an endangered landscape.” We are left with historical specters--a beach of bones, a boarded up building, a canal of filth--that will not physically exist forever; they too will vanish, just like the things that they are now the remains of. Even though I am nostalgic for the past, I am also nostalgic for the present, which is constantly disappearing, and the future, which is defined by the past. I seek out these abandoned places in order to breathe life into the dead and dying.

Here is one breath: my mother once told me to use the past to push me forward. She is gone eight years and yet I am still finding her remains--a handwritten note, a recipe, a forgotten memory triggered by the senses. Like my mother, perhaps this city is just too large and intricate to cease to exist, at least psychically; looming over me like a shadow.

Psychogeography and grief seem to follow a similar trajectory: you have to take in the repelling, heartbreaking parts in order to feel the full affect, the full weight, of what it is you are trying to understand. Just like a city, grief is an enormous and difficult concept to accept. I believe that like the heart of the city, in the spaces between the skyscrapers and hidden in the neglected terrains, my mother is in these pages I write even when she’s not, in between words and hidden in the white space.

 


Cynthia Ann Schemmer is a writer and editor who currently lives in Philadelphia. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and has been published in Philadelphia City Paper, Broken Pencil, Toska Magazine, and Connotation Press.  She has also co-authored a chapter in Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind, a collection of tips and narratives on ways non-parents can support parents and children. Her cat is her creative mews. (www.cynthiaschemmer.com)

 

 

Antiseptic Six-Pack: Six Fragments from Dead Horse Bay by Nora Maynard

OBJECTBottles

BODY OF WATERDead Horse Bay


1.

It isn’t really a stop, but when I ask him to, the bus driver’s happy to drop me off just before the bridge, right across from the old airfield.

I follow the dirt path on foot. Dry grasses with dun-colored seed-fringes sway in the wind. Low bushes twist knee-height, laden with red winter berries. Everything here is sparse and tight. Salt-stunted growth. The way is turning to sand. I climb the hill and the sky opens to water.

I walk in thick-soled boots over rock and rubble. Stumble on a red brick, corners worn round like a bar of soap. This is not the kind of place where you want to lose your footing.

An alarm clock lies face down. Its winding knobs bubble with rust. A tangle of old nylons snakes through the bare branches of a fallen tree. Stretch and release, stretch and release while the waves lap. Magpie pieces of glass glitter everywhere. Clear shards. Milk white chunks. Cobalt blue. Amber. Bottles, jars. Lidless, neckless. Medicine, lotion, ink, perfume, soda, beer. Now half-filled with water and slick, green algae.

A word lies half-buried at my feet: LISTERINE. Sand-worn. Sea-tumbled. I dig the bottle out and it emerges like a miracle: unbroken.

I carry it home in my pocket, this dwarf vessel, only large enough to hold a few ounces. Sometime in the 1930s, it was somebody’s single morning swish and spit.

2.

The dentist tells him Only floss the teeth you want to keep. It bleeds when he does, but more when he doesn’t. Use mouthwash too. There are large spaces around that tooth where food likes to stick. Pockets.

He puts the bottle in the bottom of the plastic drugstore cart, below the six-pack of toilet paper and the shrink-wrapped duo of paper towels. Plastic, plastic, plastic. He can remember when Listerine bottles were glass. When they came shrouded in a protective cardboard canister and a veil of crinkly paper. When there were no store-brand look-alikes with labels like Duane Reade and Price Chopper and America’s Choice.

He was still married to his first wife then. He remembers the bathroom of their ramshackle newlywed apartment, how they once made love in that old-fashioned claw tub. She seemed to take delight in every single Victorian detail about that place. Wainscotting. Crown molding. Even the old stovepipe holes filled in sloppily with plaster.

When it ended, he replaced her with another lovely brown-haired girl, and then another. Each new love was a fair approximation of the last.

3.

“No, it’s true,” says Petra, staring at her own face in the medicine cabinet mirror. “If you swallow it all down, you won’t get bad breath for a whole week. And if you do it really fast, it’ll make you drunk too.”

She pinches the childproof cap between the fingers of one hand. Each nail is painted a different color, like jelly beans. With a twist of her wrist, the bottle of pale brown liquid is open, and the room fills with the after-breakfast scent of Jo’s father, the strange, distant one he wears each morning with his stiff, white shirt and creased wool trousers as he bends to kiss her before rushing out the door.

“What else is in here?” says Petra, using the toilet lid as a step stool to scale the vanity, then plopping her denim-clad butt down on the pale blue counter. She slides one of the mirrors to the side and pulls out a bottle of chalky pink liquid and then one crammed full of white tablets. “This one makes you poop and then, if you take too much, this one makes you stop pooping.” She slides the other mirror to the other side and grabs a pink razor and a pair of tweezers. “Girls have to use these after they get their period because they grow mustaches.”

“They do not,” says Jo, laughing in spite of herself.

“It’s true,” says Petra, plucking a silver tube from the middle shelf of the cabinet. She pulls off the top and swivels the bottom until a glistening column of pink rises from it. The same pink Jo’s mother leaves on coffee cups and wine glasses and on the scratchy tissues she uses to wipe Jo’s face when they’re away from home.

Petra leans in close to the mirror and Jo can see the brown curls of her hair bounce with each tiny movement. She tilts her head to one side, and then to the other, before lowering her sandaled feet to the tiled floor.

“So what do you think?” Petra asks, turning to face her with a sly, pink smile that widens into a vivid grin, baring gobs of fuchsia blooming on her teeth.

4.

Her heart is thumping. Pits and palms and groin. Sweat. Sebum. Vaginal fluids. The faintest trace of urine. All mixed together in a teeming, bacterial funk. The scent is rising, dampening her clothes. No. Stop.

She pulls away, releasing herself from the electrical-chemical wonder of his lips, from the magnetic mystery of muscle, skin, and sinew pressing beneath his summer suit. She excuses herself, taking pains to make her voice languorous and light.

In a few moments she’ll be ready for him. Clean.

She pulls the door shut and turns on the faucet, releasing a hushed waterfall of white noise down the porcelain sink. Oh, that she could take a shower now. But that would be a strange request in a stranger’s house. Not that he’s really a stranger after these two and a half days of movies and walks and dinners, but she does not want to get ahead of herself.

Listerine. Thank god. It’s here on the counter. That and a bar of Ivory soap. She slips out of her clothes and perches, one foot lifted to the vanity, the other planted on the tiled floor, careful, oh so careful, not to splash. Better now. So much better. She will not use one of his clean towels. She’ll let evaporation do the work.

And now her breath. Why did she order the souvlaki? She swigs the liquid back, and her mouth surges with a caressing, tingling warmth.

Her ex’s familiar voice rises up around her now, vaporous, as though embodied in and carried by the antiseptic fumes. He has a word for her: halitosis. He says it in his most emphatic, lecturing tone. An obscure medical term revived by pharmaceutical marketers sometime back in the 1920s. Until then, what we now think of as an iconic, brown mouthwash was largely used for the purpose for which it had been first created: a surgical disinfectant. Hard to believe now, but there was a once a time, not so long before, when surgery was performed with dirty hands on dirty flesh with dirty scalpels, when the deadly possibilities of bacteria and other tiny, invisible pathogens were something that not even doctors knew.

Dangers? Invisible pathogens? Is that what he’s shown up in this other man’s bathroom to warn her of? Or is it to politely inform her she now smells like medicine?

She tightens the cap, sealing the specter of her ex back in the bottle. She swishes again and spits everything out.

She slips into her sundress, then steps into her underpants. Completely clean. Bone dry.

5.

“Grenadine. Tangerine. Trampoline.”

“Oh, God,” she says, pressing the button to lower the car window. “I feel like I’m traveling with a toddler.”

“A toddler with a very advanced vocabulary,” he says, keeping both hands perched on the wheel, elbows up, as though performing some showy parody of driving. The green car that has been following behind them these past few miles now shifts abruptly into the passing lane and speeds away.

“Wol-ver-ine,” he whispers, mock-seductively.

She glances at the stream of traffic funneling around them. “Don’t you think we should try to get out from behind this truck?”

“What’s your hurry?” he shrugs. “Quarantine,” he adds, pleased with himself.

“Longfellow’s Evangeline,” she says, trying to make her voice take on a note of authority.

He just shakes his head.

“You’re following too close.” She can hear her own voice rising with irritation. “How can you even see the road?”

“Okay, okay. There. I’m hanging back.”

“Crystalline. Peregrine. Sistine,” she rhymes off. She can’t help it. The words are coming to her now unbidden, speeding, revving, careening through her mind. Tangerine. He already said that one, but it was a song too. If she sang the word, would it count as a something different? “Calamine. Valvoline. Listerine.”

The brakes squeal. Her body jerks forward, her right shoulder, chest and hipbones slamming against the seatbelt, then drops back against her seat. Her skin feels clammy. Her heart’s pounding hot and hard in her ears.

She sees now that the truck is a mere yard away from them, its dusty steel cargo doors rising high over the headlights of their car, like a towering concrete wall.

She turns to him and he turns to look at her.

“No,” he says. “There have to be rules to this. Proprietary names don’t count.”

6.

There is a hush in the operating theatre. The gaslight glints off all the scrubbed surfaces of this freshly disinfected room. It looks much the same as it has these past forty years, but today it seems to have been scoured of all familiarity.

The surgeon’s age-spotted right hand wields a scalpel. Ever the showman, he holds it aloft so that it catches the warm gleam of the lamp’s flame. His left hand longs to nuzzle and burrow into his waistcoat pocket to caress the comforting wooden shape. His fingers grasp reflexively, but find only starched, smooth emptiness. He is no longer wearing a waistcoat, but instead an unfamiliar white coat.

“Nurse,” he intones, sotto voce. “Fetch me my pipe.”

“Doctor,” she whispers. “I cannot,”

The patient lies motionless on the table. A splendidly muscled young man drowsing under ether, a small line like a cipher marked in India ink curling on his upper abdomen.

No one in the crowd says a word, but the old surgeon can now hear nothing but their collected respirations, their small, impatient stirrings. Leather-soled shoes scraping against linoleum. One silk-stockinged leg rubbing against another. Damp wool shifting against varnished oak.

“My pipe,” he pleads. If he could only taste its sweet smoke now, he would surely re-gather his wits.

“New regulations.”

The pretty nurse’s lips are covered today by a white mask, so he cannot fully discern her expression, but it now seems to mock him. When he draws closer to her, a harsh, unyielding scent masks her natural feminine one. It burns his nostrils with the same contemptible, newfangled sterility as the brown solution he is now required to wash his hands in, that the charwoman now cleans the floors and tables with, that the young nurse is just this moment using to stroke the patient’s sleek chest with a bleach-white sponge.

The surgeon’s hand trembles. He stands lost in a vast, brightly lit room.

“Nurse. Please.”

“I’m sorry, Doctor,” she says, her liquid brown eyes defiant. “I cannot.”


Nora Maynard’s recent work has appeared in Salon, the Ploughshares blog, Drunken Boat,Necessary Fiction, and The Millions. She has been awarded fellowships from Ucross, Blue Mountain Center, the Millay Colony, and Ragdale, and is a winner of the Bronx Writers’ Center/Bronx Council of the Arts Chapter One Competition. She is completing her first novel.  Visit: http://www.noramaynard.com/

Dread Beach by Cate Marvin


It’s a kill myself kind of day,
the sun itself refusing to lend
its flattering light to the skin
that makes my face, its eyes
set as facets to gaze on a sea
churning its organs up upon
the shore lit beneath a hurt,

where the gassy water’s salt
fattens and deposit its small
wealth of dead crabs clawless
among stunted mussel shells,
beach glass the worn lip from
Mad Dog, and someone’s lost
his pants three times by three

wave-worn rocks, by the pyre
of piss-filled gatorade bottles,
discarded tampon applicators,
two combs jagged with teeth.
I died here once. Before nothing
mattered. So I pocket sea glass.
In another life, it’d have cut my

thigh.  But all that’s here rusts.
A grocery cart estranged upon
rock.  Mattress coils deranged
with fishing net, and the plastic
bunting that once plied hospital
beds is now a white zipper twist
round a pylon staking remnant

pavement to sand this worn-at
children’s hospital a someone
said let the sea take away so as
not to have to cart its ugly onto
the inland.  And when the dead
began to matter was when my
wrists began to stagger, beach-

comb sea-glass. Dragging their
blood-nets all over. Back then,
I got my gift of fading into walls
simply by leaning. First time I
saw him, I knew I’d been done in.
See, your salt-crumpled pants
legs dead as sea crabs, thick tar

muddle glued beneath sun next
to a tire rind, that half full bottle
of Visine lying on sand in wait as
if to proffer its saline kisses to my
driest eye: froth your terrible past!
O, but if you only knew. Back then,
I was so much better at being dead.


Cate Marvin’s first book of poems, World’s Tallest Disaster, was chosen by Robert Pinksy for the 2000 Kathryn A. Morton Prize and published by Sarabande Books in 2001. In 2002, she received the Kate Tufts Discovery Prize. She is co-editor with poet Michael Dumanis of the anthology Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century (Sarabande Books, 2006). Her second book of poems, Fragment of the Head of a Queen, for which she received a Whiting Award, was published by Sarabande in 2007. She teaches poetry writing at Columbia University’s MFA Program and Lesley University’s Low-Residency MFA Program, and is an associate professor in creative writing in the College of Staten Island, City University of New York. She is co-founder of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts, an organization with the mission to  explore critical and cultural perceptions of writing by women through meaningful conversation and the exchange of ideas among existing and emerging literary communities.

NY Pelagic by George Boorujy

OBJECT: Bottles

BODY OF WATER: All Over 


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About NY Pelagic

 Brooklyn artist George Boorujy is putting original drawings of pelagic (open ocean) birds in bottles, along with a questionnaire, and launching them into New York waterways as an exploration of our connection to and impact on the ocean and its wildlife, as well as an examination of what we value in our culture – plastic, art, the health of the environment, and by extension, our own health. To learn more about the project and to track its progress, visit NY Pelagic. Be on the look-out for an upcoming collaborative event with NY Pelagic and Underwater New York.

 


George Boorujy was born and raised in New Jersey. Intending to pursue a career as a biologist, he ended up with a BFA from the University of Miami in 1996. This gateway degree predictably led to a MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2002. He has exhibited widely, was a 2010 NYFA fellow in painting, and was a 2009-10 Smack Mellon resident. He is represented by P.P.O.W. Gallery in New York, and lives and works on the far western tip of Long Island. With all those other artists. Visit his website to see more of his work.