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.

Bloodworms by M. A. Istvan Jr.

OBJECT: Bloodworms, Fish

BODY OF WATER: Hudson River

It was striper season in the early nineties

on the eastern bank of the Hudson River,

just south of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. 

My dad, bareback-sloshed with beer and sun,

had his deep-sea pole cast for food. To him

no matter were the toxicity warnings 

on most fish north of the Tappan Zee. 


When my dad reeled in a hook gone empty, 

it was my job to pass him the white carton

of gas station bloodworms—too little 

to do much more than pass, too afraid 

to dig through that mesh of moist seaweed

for a seven-inch aggressive: venom-fanged, 

a band of pulsing skin tags down each side.


Inevitably my dad would slur, “Wanna try 

baitin’ the bitch?” His casual delivery,

so he knew, painted the task so trouble-free

that the command at the core of his question 

stood out all the more. But he was not serious.

He knew me. He would leave me nerve-racked, 

just a moment, before showing how easy it was. 


A squeeze to protract its eversible proboscis,

my dad would let the four black fangs pierce

his nicotine finger, leaving the worm to dangle

for me. Then he would drive the hook down 

the retracting mouth, throughout the pink body.

So much blood, the color of ours, would pool 

in the creases of his hands, dripping to rocks.


M. A. ISTVAN JR. is a zodiac surgeon and respected board member of the National Council for Geocosmic Research. Whereas most other zodiac surgeons are equipped to shift your sign only one position forward, Istvan can shift your sign either one position forward or—barring the unlikely circumstance that you are a menopausal Pisces with a quadruped gait—even one position back. Istvan hopes that increased awareness about zodiac surgery will help bring in the funding required for researching zodiac sign transplantation, which ideally will allow a shift to any of the twelve signs in a matter of hours (as opposed to the years it takes currently to shift just one spot). As Istvan recently revealed in an interview with Shadow Transits, he envisions a future where there will be a zodiac donor box on driver’s licenses.

The Fish Fisherman Call Trash by Robert Farrell


Are not trash, but fish:

Scup, dogfish, wolf eel, skate; sand dabs, lion fish, monkfish (aka “allmouth;” aka “sea devil”); the sea robin, blood clams, rainbow smelt; leather jacket (Oligoplites saurus), sheepshead, barrelfish, almaco jack;

Triggerfish, pink porgy, spinycheek scorpionfish; finger squid, goldeye tilefish, “the amusingly named” mother-in-law; butterfish, pin bream, mangrove snapper; bigeye, redhorse suckers;

Rosebud seabass; the blue runner, redfish (unusual for giving birth to live young); the lake sturgeon, bowfin, big mouth buffalo, black

Drum, flounder; longtail bass, queen snapper, bull head cats; the white grunt. Whether dragged in nets, hooked on trots, or farm-

Raised; whether bow-shot, by-caught, or reeled: no longer “underappreciated,” but still unappreciated, even, or perhaps especially, by those who value them for “food,” by scientists looking for collagens, sportsmen seeking a challenge, restaurateurs in quest of novel ceviches, hipsters out for kicks, and other motherfuckers

Who would kill and swallow, play locavore, or create a market for the unmarketable, a fashion for the unfashionable, or who say they wish

To eat “low on the food chain,” but not low enough to let them be. And what to do with carp? Do nothing and, like Hippocrates, do no harm.


Writer's Statement: Several fish in this poem can be spotted in the waters of New York City beside the bull head catfish and carp, which live in the Bronx River among other places. Starting from City Island in the Bronx, you can find skates, sand dabs, sea robin, and flounder in the submerged bottom habitat of Long Island Sound. In more open waters you’ll find monkfish, dogfish, butterfish, and scup, though not the pink porgy, which is found in warmer waters. People have also seen black drum. The white grunt makes an occasional appearance.  Once plentiful, the sheepshead is still occasionally found in Sheepshead Bay.

Robert Farrell lives and works as a librarian in the Bronx, New York. His essays have appeared in various publications including photographer Erik Madigan Heck's Nomenus Quarterly. He will be attending the Ashbery Home School poetry workshop in the summer of 2015.

The Fish Building by Gabriela Bertiller


BODY OF WATER: Bronx River

Editors' Statement

Although the Bronx is the only one of NYC’s five boroughs attached to the mainland, it is bordered on three sides by water, as well as traversed by the Bronx and Hutchinson Rivers and dotted by lakes and ponds. It is possible to kayak along sections of the Bronx River, surrounded by trees, and feel a world away from highways, high rises, Highbridge. Conversely, walking along the Grand Concourse, the Bronx’s most famous thoroughfare, it is almost impossible to feel that water is anywhere close by. But—at 1150 Grand Concourse, right by the Housing Court and the Bronx Museum, there is a building lovingly referred to as The Fish Building. The Art Deco facade’s iridescent underwater mosaics are a striking reminder that, while the Grand Concourse is a conduit for people, buses, bikes and cars, other nearby channels are, at the very same moment, being traveled by bass, bullhead catfish, blue gills, turtles and carp.

Underwater New York has been enthralled with 1150 Grand Concourse for quite some time. After discovering that the artist Gabriela Bertiller had done a community-oriented project on the building for the Bronx Museum, we were delighted to invite her to share her work on the site.

Adapted from a press release on The Fish Building by Gabriela Bertiller written by Madre Buenos Aires who sponsored the project.

Supported by The Bronx Museum of the Arts AIM program (Artist in the Marketplace), Argentine-born artist Gabriela Bertiller developed The Fish Building, a project that highlighted and contributed to the dialogue between the Museum and its community.

The Fish Building is an Art Deco structure, appropriately named after the aquarium mosaic flanking its entrance. Bertiller, inspired by the building’s unique details and its loss of appreciation over time, transported stunning visual elements of The Fish Building into the exhibition. The artist used it as a vehicle to highlight and facilitate an exchange between the Museum and the Bronx community.

During the exhibit, Gabriela honored the emblematic construction, giving it a new appreciation in a fine art setting by replicating some of the buildings interiors in the lobby of The Bronx Museum. The artist included The Fish Building’s tenants as a fundamental part of her work. The bond she proposed to stimulate materialized on the opening day when the tenants of the building formed a symbolic line in matching red t-shirts reading “Proud Tenant of The Fish Building” from The Fish Building’s entrance to the Museum Hall. This active participation of the tenants, the neighbors and museum’s visitors turned The Fish Building into not only a piece of art but a collectively constructed one. The exhibition at the Bronx Museum ran from June 26th through September 5, 2011.

Gabriela Bertiller was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studied at Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Prilidiano Pueyredón and received her MFA at School of Visual Arts, New York.

In 2011 she was selected for the AIM program at The Bronx Museum of the Arts. She has been artist-in-residence at Changdong Art Studio run by the National Museum of Contemporary Art in Seoul, (2005), Red Gate Gallery in Beijing (2004) and The Banff Centre in Canada (2004). Gabriela Bertiller has exhibited at The Bronx Museum of the Arts, New York, The Soap Factory, Minneapolis, Gallery Hyundai, Seoul, Hyogo Museum of Art, Japan and Centro Cultural Recoleta, Buenos Aires.