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.

East River of My Devotion by Lindsay Sullivan

Watch video of Lindsay and her collaborator Doug Keith performing this song at the American Folk Art Museum here



I took the sea to the C

searching for ghosts at Dead Horse beach

a ship appeared to me

I swam out so I could see

"Come aboard my darlin

it's the last time I'll be callin

come aboard and sail with me."

We sailed along the water's edge

Brighton Beach over Dreamland

cut right and towards the bridge

first Brooklyn then Manhattan.

"It wont be long my darlin

until you are drownin

and you belong to the sea."

Then the wind began to blow,

lightning struck and hit my boat.

I swam hard but fell below

I sang out to the River, don't let me go.

"You are the waves to my ocean,

East River of my devotion

I'll drink your salt

I'll breathe your sea."

I sunk down onto my knees,

Threw my head down to Her Sandy feet,

I begged Her please to let me breathe,

one breath of Her Salty Sea.

"You are the waves to my ocean,

East River of my devotion

I'll drink your salt

I'll breathe your sea."


And I became the River Bed,

Dead Fish, Stripped Cars and Soda Cans.

River City below Manhattan,

Piano Keys, Submarines and The Princess Ann. 

I am the waves to Your Ocean,

East River of our Devotion.

I drink Your Salt and 

I breathe Your Sea.

Yes I am the waves to Your Ocean,

East River of our Devotion.

I drink Your Salt and 

I breathe Your Sea.

Lindsay Sullivan is a student, yoga and meditation teacher, singer, songwriter and piano player living in Los Angeles. In 2008 she released her debut LP, Long Road Home with her band Clair. 

Beside by Nicole Haroutunian

 Artist Statement

One of my favorite things about Underwater New York is that all of these strange, evocative objects we collect in our list, objects that have no business being beside each other on dry land, coexist underwater. I sketched some of my favorites so they would be beside each other here, too.   

Nicole Haroutunian is an editor of Underwater New York. You can find her bio here.  

You Will Not Find Her at the Bottom of the River on Whose Shores Your Life Has Been Squandered by David Hollander

Well then down you go.  Spiraling into darkness with the regulator hissing and the funk of the Hudson clinging to your suit like rime, the spotlight held at arm’s length and advancing its bad joke into a slurry of black mud and pollution, the bubbles racing from your mouth toward a theoretical surface as you penetrate deeper into that living darkness which cinctures the earth and makes a mockery of your personal ephemera, of the husband you no longer recognize, of the advanced degrees that belie your fecklessness, of the psychotropic prescriptions that mediate your pain, of her empty crib with its bone-white spindles, of the lewd smile of the young man at the dive shop, of the dappled morning sunlight outside your bedroom window and the ferocious joy it has occasionally instilled, of your fear of spiders and your fear of bridges and your fear of stained glass cathedrals—the darkness making a mockery of love.

Your heart punching at the wetsuit as you sink to the bottom of this urban river on whose shores your life has been squandered, this river which preserves that original conundrum from which the entire cosmology was birthed in an unfathomable instant of fire, pushed from some icy womb of Nothingness so as to spread out virus-like and then die its slow death.  The depth gauge glows green in the murk, fifty feet, then sixty and then yes, as promised, here is the oily bottom rising up to meet you and you lay your belly down in the earth’s black blood, indulging in the deep gulps of air you’ve been counseled against taking, your body hot and electric within the suit as if the neoprene enclosed only pulsing organs and circulatory twine.  You peer out across the riverbottom and down a corridor of visibility above which the particulate matter hovers like smoke in a housefire, then you kick hard once and glide out above the planet’s bottom where creatures deformed by metropolitan poisons live out their sorry half-witted lives.

You sail into a strange dreamscape, as if the Hudson were articulating the collective remembrances of those countless cadavers drifting through the roiling current, skeletons and zombies conjuring up a limbo of fantastic design: Here a freight train ten cars long, half buried in the mud yet still endowed with illusory motion by the visibly streaking current, the penumbral forms of phantom hobos slithering back within the enormous cargo boxes as your spotlight rotates.  Here an ice cream truck whose former delights are yet promoted on a side panel, Ice Cream Tastes Good!, alongside a grisly portfolio of the truck’s one-time wares, treats now betumored by bulbous mollusks that shrink eerily beneath the light.  Here a collection of ten-foot ivory worms attached—at their gaping mouths—to a wooden beam weighed to the bottom by a thick iron chain, the worms stretched taut and wavering like the stripes on some wind-stiffened flag and each thick as a thumb.

She can’t be that sick.  Just look at her. Oh but she was, goddamn you all, she was even sicker than that.

Here now a grand piano, squatting perfectly upright in the black mud and so you pause at the keys, adjust your buoyancy, one hand holding the light and the other reaching slowly through the water, fingers splayed to tap out the opening bars to Fur Elise, and though no sound issues forth you nevertheless hear the notes as played by your own mother whose warm smile and warm heart only served in the end to foster those illusions to which the river is antithetical.  You push gently back from the instrument and the keyboard’s perfect teeth seem to smile grotesquely and something silver flitters in your periphery, reminding you of your own alienness and of the demons that lie in wait for those who would search out angels here in the darkness of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.

Here now an old muscle car, a painted eagle splayed across the hood and a small spiny fish behind the spiderwebbed windshield.  Here a formica dinette, several chairs upset in the mud as if an aggrieved family had only just departed, their accusations already regretted, their long-pent rage now spent on internecine resentment.

She can’t be that sick.  Look at her.  It’s impossible. Sleeping peacefully among a menagerie of stuffed animals whose dead eyes stared back at you with an absolute detachment that you would remember later, when she was in the tiny casket with her own eyes sewn shut but surely aghast beneath the tiny lids and you ran your hand over that dead face and found yourself unable to make the connection between this pale corpse and the little girl asleep in the white crib who could not be that sick just look at her it’s impossible and already there before the casket you were thinking of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered, because she had asked you from her hospital bed if this meant she wouldn’t get to go paddling with you, Mommy can I still go when I get better?, and even then you knew that you would make this one and only dive and that you would tell no one, not the doctor nor the university colleagues nor the husband you no longer recognized, down you’d go into darkness just as your own father had those many years ago and you had seen the man swim,Captain Tuna, his navy buddies had called him, and men like your father did not succumb to rivers though they might choose them.

And now the wreck of the Princess Anne, just as they’d promised at the dive tutorial, a 350-foot side-lying behemoth with an enormous iron smokestack embedded in the slime like the barrel of some doomsday weapon.  You peer into a cabin porthole half expecting an ulterior world to fashion itself from the ship’s debris, your breath hissing and the bubbles racing upward toward a surface you remember and long for and despise. What accompanies your exhalations and dissipates into this idiom impervious to language?  What will remain of you to drown?  And is she after all at the bottom of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered?  Is she here where the dream symbols incubate, where the dead are born and the living perish?  Is she here among the refuse of a city that never gave a goddamn about you, that inflicted its own tidal erosion upon your soft and ill-prepared heart, that wore away at your every desire before destroying the one thing it could not take by simple attrition?

Maybe you ought to have climbed our tallest remaining skyscraper instead, scanned the windows as they rushed past for some fleeting glimpse of her brown-blond hair.  Or you might have searched the expression of a subway conductor as you hovered before his brighlit onrushing cockpit in one last, enduring caesura, looked there for meaning or for forgiveness.  (The crunch of bones, the explosion of light and blood.)  Or you might have done what the others do and just endured, the way he was enduring, you might have lived with her ghost always just outside your periphery, always waiting for you to alight upon the secret spell that would drive the marrow back within her phantom bones so that she could again embrace your legs and giggle, and fall, and laugh with a joy that ripped your heart in two.

You push now within the hull-split wreck.  Ruptured plates and once-inhabited cubbies.  Horizontal movement through the ship’s vertical layers. You take enormous breaths.  Your thoughts race for the surface of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.  Her tiny body on a tiny bed.  Tubes and wires.  Monitors with their bright peaks and valleys.  Her blood a poison to itself, her blood not unlike this dark river in whose downdraft you now coast.  Up there on earth there were people moving about, surefooted and unapologetic.  Up there they ate and drank, they laughed and made love, they suffered and died.  The river does not care.  You hear it now… Fur Elise… drifting toward you on a wave of pure light, an anti-oblivion that will preserve you—as if in amber—here at the bottom of the river on whose shores your life has been squandered.  You turn back toward the wreck’s sundered hull and you see the colors rush toward you, a many-hued brightness with the notes spinning visibly within the blinding quanta and the river now an empty channel through which this deadly beauty flows and you, down here, sorry at long last that nothing, not even this, will restore you to yourself.

The sleeping child in your arms, her warm breath on your neck, you turn to face the crib with its bone-white spindles and you suck in her smell and you hold it deep within your aching lungs and you do not exhale, you will choke on it, goddamn these goddamn people who never lost a thing.

David Hollander is the author of the novel L. I. E; his short fiction has appeared inMcSweeney’s, Post Road, Unsaid, Swink, and Best American Fantasy.

She Dreams of her Piano at the Bottom of the Bay by Nicole Miller

OBJECT: Grand Piano

BODY OF WATERLower New York Bay

The baby grand was a gift from a man she no longer knows – in any case, no longer wants to know.  He bought it at an estate sale and had it delivered to her apartment, where it now sits in the middle of the room, collecting dust and her unopened mail.  At the time, it seemed like a mad, improvisational gesture – something extravagant and wildly inappropriate, like a diamond tiara or a pair of antlers – a gift with no apparent use.  She should have known he was going to leave her.

She made a list, after he left, of all the things she intended to do.  “Get a dog,” she wrote at the top.  She didn’t specify what kind of dog, but something small, obviously, to accommodate the piano.  She’d call him Nipper and he’d lie at her feet while she took long naps in the afternoon.

“Spackle drywall” was next on her list.  For the life of her she couldn’t imagine why she’d written this.  Number three was just plain illegible, obscured where she’d spilled coffee on the page.  “Spfdnk?”  Spiffdunk?  It’s a shame, she thought.  Whatever it was I’d intended to do would never get its day in the sun.  Everything deserved its day in the sun, even the most reluctant desire.

He’s a man with cultish tendencies, she thinks.  She hears the phrase again in her mind and wonders what it means.  He’s a real estate agent, for crying out loud.  And here is another phrase that gives her pause: crying out loud, crying out loud.  Someone on the verge of hysteria.  But she refuses to get a job, so she probably deserves it.  Alone in the apartment with her plants.

There was something he’d said to her once, sitting in her apartment, listening to a recording of Mahler: “One bar derives from the last and leads to the next.”  Was he speaking of music or liquor?

Maybe this is what she meant by cultish tendencies – susceptible to coercive persuasion. One bar derives from the last. She herself had never managed this trick – the sort of charisma required by cults – though she’d once wanted him to worship at the foot of her bed – to light candles and perform obscene ablutions – to place clean hands on the top of her head.

Perhaps if she’d told him she had cancer?  Maybe he would have stayed.  If she’d said it was terminal – isn’t everything terminal?  She could’ve learned to be fevered and brave.  She’d grow frail and lose her hair.  She’d wear her bones like exquisite jewelry.  She’d make herself irresistible to him.

“Music lessons,” were next on the list, because she might still redeem the dark gift.  Under that, she wrote “Learn to crochet.”  It struck her, when she wrote it, as an appropriately serious scheme, but now, wrinkled – stained – the list seems dismal and slightly hyperbolic.

The piano, too, seems ridiculous to her – too big for her actual life.  It crowds the other things in her apartment – her sofa and the brass lamp, the easy-chair she can no longer sit in, wedged as it is against the coffee table.

“The piano is becoming a bother,” she tells her friend Louise.

Louise is pregnant by a man who is married.  She is not sympathetic to Marie’s complaint.  She lies on Marie’s floor, pressing the small of her back into the rug.   “Have you ever heard of sciatica?” she says.

When Louise learned she was pregnant, she called the married man and told him she’d changed the locks on her doors.  She would no longer do it, she told Marie – waiting up for his calls after midnight – watching at the window for his car.  There was not room in her body for both her child and her longing.  Besides, she said, he was never really hers.

Now she has something that is hers, Marie thinks.  She wants to be cruel to Louise, but she can’t.  She wants to say, “You fool.”   Louise would laugh if she said it now.

She regards her friend with skepticism.  “Some women look like they were born to be pregnant.  You look like you’re harboring a volley ball in your shirt.”

“I’m harboring heartburn,” Louise says.

Marie offers Louise the piano.  “I don’t even want any money for it.  Just take it off my hands.”

Louise suggests that she call Goodwill.  “I bet they’d come pick it up.”

In fact, Marie isn’t ready to part with the piano, though she can’t explain this to Louise – why its presence in her living room both harasses and reassures.  How its waxed surface and white keys remind her, somehow, of the pearls her mother once kept in the top drawer of her dresser.  She’s holding onto the piano, she supposes, for the same reason Louise endures her sciatica, bearing in her body her love’s affliction.

“I’m not even sure how to get it out of here,” Marie says.  “I know it won’t fit in the elevator.”

Louise says that if they got it in here, they can get it back out.

“Maybe they pried off the roof,” Marie says.

“Maybe they built it like a ship in a bottle.”

Marie surveys her living room.  She can’t remember what it looked like before the piano.  How were the chairs arranged?

“Lately, I’ve been dreaming of frogs,” Louise says.

“Are they tadpoles, or full-grown frogs?”

“Frogs,” Louise says.

“How biblical.”

Louise grunts and rolls onto her side. “What do you suppose it means?”

“It means you’re pregnant,” says Marie.  “Little swimmer probably still has gills.”

“Do frogs have gills?”

“Mmmm,” Marie says.  “Tadpoles do.”  Marie doesn’t believe in dreams.  At least, as bearers of meaning or sense.  Once, as a girl, her mother had taken her to the museum to see an exhibit of Surrealist paintings: liquid clocks, desert moonscapes.  “See?” her mother had said.  “Dreams are real.”  But Marie was skeptical of the chthonic figures casting long shadows at noon.

“I’m doing a Kegel right now,” Louise says.  “That’s what the instructions tell me to do.”

“What instructions?”

“On the internet,” says Louise.

Marie is thinking of how comic the piano looks in her living room – how ill-advised, its optimism floundering against her stained upholstery and mismatched end-tables, the chipped surfaces of the shabby room.  A doomed vessel, which once had raised its lid like a mast toward the future – toward children and grandchildren who gathered in the evening – recitals – fat fingers flubbing the keys.

But no, this is only wishful thinking, because what kind of man would give a gift like that?  So large and strange and perfectly useless – there was never any real hope in it.  Neither of them knew how to play it.

He’s a man with cultish tendencies, she thinks, and understands, now, what she means – a man who would give a gift like that – the obvious expense – the squandered pearls – the mystery and ego – required by the faithful of those whose garment they touch.

“Pull me up.”  Louise extends her arms to Marie, who hauls her into a sitting position.  “I’m also constipated,” she says.

No, Marie thinks, her condition is not like Louise’s at all.  Louise is growing larger everyday.  She is harboring something living and other.  There are two heartbeats in her chest.  One will take its place beside her.

Sometimes, at night, while she is sleeping, Marie thinks she hears the piano.  It is playing an old, remembered tune.  She can’t make out the words, but she knows that patient tempo, the tethered, steady progression of chords.  It’s a sad song, Marie thinks, like waves breaking against the pier.  Their constant, useless return.  Their repetition which quietly consoles, so that she almost forgets their armored depths and their terrible, stoic solitude.

And then, toward morning, waking in an empty bed, the song fading with the reluctant night, Marie knows the sound for what it is.  Come back, it says.  Come back, come back.  It’s only her heart, beating alone.

Nicole Miller’s fiction has appeared in the journals ImageAlaska Quarterly Review, and NANO Fiction. She lives and writes in Brooklyn.