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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.

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. https://txstate.academia.edu/MichaelIstvanJr.

Scarlet Tanager by Nicole Haroutunian

This story is an outtake from Silent Beaches, Untold Stories: New York City's Forgotten Waterfront. Read more about the book, and order it, here


OBJECT: Scarlet Tanager, Oil, Toxins

BODY OF WATER: Newtown Creek


Sunday morning, we’re sopping up Heinz beans with toast, taking our eggs over easy, drinking down restorative pints of Guinness. The pub is cool and dark, shelter against the bright, beautiful summer day outside. It’s not the same spot we were drinking at last night, but it’s right around the corner.

Erin’s college roommate, Judy, is staying with us at our parents’. I couldn’t wait to have Erin back home again, but three of us girls in the bedroom I’d just gotten used to having to myself, well. The boys, Eddie and Ralph, aren’t staying there, too—God forbid—but they were here last night and are back this morning, so they might as well be.

Feeling ok? Erin mouths. Although she’s only a year and half older than me, college has made the gap more pronounced. I let her baby me the same way she let me tag along last night. I turned eighteen last month so it’s finally legal for me to trail her into a bar. I nod. My waking headache recedes with each greasy bite of breakfast.

“You do look alike,” Judy says, eyes flitting between Erin and me. “It’s just your hair is a different color.” She twists a piece of her long light hair with Erin’s: same-same. “People ask if we’re sisters all the time.”

I cram a piece of sausage into my mouth.

“I said that,” Eddie says. “Didn’t I ask you that when we met?”

“You make it sound so long ago,” Erin says. She’s practically fluttering her eyelashes. “It was just last night!”

This is news to me. I thought these boys were college friends, too.

“No, no,” Judy sets me straight. “They’re in the Coast Guard.” She says it as if there’s romance to this.

I raise two fingers to my brow, salute.

“Cute,” Ralph says. I see my sister and her friend exchange a look. “You girls up for a walk?” he asks. “Some of the guys spotted a crazy oil spill while they were on a patrol the other day. It’s near here. Me and Eddie want to check it out.”

“Gross,” Judy says.

I was focused on catching up with Erin last night, edging between her and Judy for a little of her time—well, that and drinking beer after beer—but I remember now, Ralph hanging around me, Ralph buying me some of those beers. He’s definitely the more appealing of the two boys, but I still don’t want to encourage it. What would Judy and my sister do with only one guy between them? I’m the obvious fifth wheel. “I should go home,” I say.

“Yeah, you don’t have to come,” Erin says to me, proving my point. A gold claddagh ring, her one adornment today, glints as she gestures for our check. The ring was our grandmother’s. I used to think that once I got to be Erin’s age, I would start to accumulate some of Nanna’s “special pieces,” too, but it turns out I will never be Erin’s age.

“She does have to come,” Ralph says. “Of course she does.”

We make our way out onto the sidewalk and let the boys lead the way under the pigeon-haunted looping arcs of the seven train, across the frenetic eight lanes of Queens Boulevard and down bustling Greenpoint Avenue, as if we weren’t the ones who are from here. Me, I don’t follow boys, but I do follow my sister. I always have. Some girls gain weight when they go away to school, but Erin, I see in the sunlight, casts only a sliver of shadow. Our mother, entranced with canned goods and proud of her perpetually full pantry, whispered to me on the way out this morning that I best make sure my sister finished her breakfast. I’ll report back that she did, although it was Eddie who ate the last of her eggs.

Ralph walks backward for a block, asking us how long we’ve lived here (forever), how we like it (it’s where we’re from, what does liking it have to do with it), if there were any good spots to buy comic books (what?). In the early summer sun, his eyes are dark and luminous, like Coca Cola in a glass.

He turns back around and I tug on Erin’s elbow. “Who are these people?”

Judy laughs, as if I’d been talking to her. She casts a pointed eye at the rear of Eddie’s tight jeans. “Like, do you need any more information?”

Erin wraps her arm around my neck, a brittle vice grip. “We’re just having a nice day,” she says, squeezing. We cross over the LIE, the traffic rushing underneath us, to and from Manhattan. We’re coming up on the cemetery where we’ve got a family mausoleum. It’s not one of the fancy ones with stained glass and carved angels, just a plain old grey stone box.

Opposite the cemetery is a crumbling brick school, sort of gothic with turrets at the top. It used to terrify us as children. Kids would sneak in to ghost-hunt at Halloween every year. When I was twelve and Erin was fourteen, she went with a bunch of older kids and I thought I would die waiting for her to come home. When she finally did, she had this story of how she hadn’t seen a ghost but had felt one, a cold cloak touching all of her body, an icy feeling she couldn’t shake. It was with her, she said, still with her, right there in our bedroom. She climbed into my bed and cried. I still don’t know what really happened in that empty building that night, but I know it didn’t really have to do with a ghost.

I sweep my hand across the landscape. “This is called Blissville,” I say. "Really."

Judy sniffs the air. Her nose wrinkles, porcine, unflattering. I am glad we’re moving toward the smell.

“That’s the Creek,” I add.

“Are you starting at New Paltz in the fall, too?” Ralph asks me. “Joining your sis?”

I shake my head; Judy slips her hands into her back pockets, pushing her chest forward. I almost say that she’ll have Erin to herself again soon enough but instead I pull my tortoiseshell sunglasses from my bag, slide them up my nose. “Nearby,” I say. “Vassar.”

Eddie laughs, nudges Ralph. “Girls school, huh,” he says. “Nice.”

“It’s been co-ed for nearly ten years,” I say. Eddie’s head is going pink in the sun, the skin exposed by his military shearing.

Ralph’s face is pink, too, but likely from the embarrassment of being associated with Eddie. That the pale buffoon is who my sister seems to have her eye on is a disappointment.

We’re coming up on a chain link fence. On the other side, Newtown Creek. Because the sky is a flawless blue, from here it sparkles like any normal body of water, despite the grey industrial tangle on either side of it. Ralph holds a piece of fence to the side so we can duck through. Some prior explorers or ne’er-do-wells have cut it with sheers. The ground is silty, strewn with broken glass, tires, jagged flinty rocks. Judy picks across it in her raffia platforms, fighting a scowl, trying to seem game. She lifts up her left foot, inspecting the sole. Erin and I are in matching blue Dr. Scholl’s, keeping us out of the muck. We head straight for the green-slimed pier at the water’s edge, trying to see below the surface.

“I expected black,” Erin says. “Plumes, streaks.”

“It just looks like water,” Judy says. “Regular, dirty, disgusting New York City water. I’m from Long Beach—we should go there next week.”

They retreat; Eddie follows. I crouch. It’s true that there’s no dramatic, see-it-from-the-sky oil spill evident, but up close, the water looks psychedelic, slicked with a purple-silver film. It doesn’t look regular. Ralph comes up beside me, hitches up his jeans and squats down to inspect.

“So, is it the oil spill that gives it that smell? No,” Ralph says.

“Our uncle worked at this factory,” I say. Erin perches on a slab of cement overlooking the water. I worry for tetanus, but join her. Eddie takes the corner on her other side, his thigh pressed against hers. I wish she were wearing jeans like the rest of us, but Erin is always in a dress—this one, red and blue vertical stripes with big white buttons down the front.

“More like a plant,” Erin corrects me. “Rendering animals for glue. For a while when we were little we thought he stole pets to burn up—it was explained to us too quickly.”

“Really, it was scraps from butchers, house pets that had passed, police horses,” I say. “He told us that once they even broke down a circus elephant.”

Ralph hovers between us and the water, toeing a role of waterlogged rug with his brown boot. Erin pulls her hair to the side, exposing her freckled neck. As Eddie eyes it, I notice that Judy is leaning on him, the curve of her hip, where her shirt is riding up, snug against his side. Erin tips her head closer to his, and he takes her hand. Together, they examine her gold ring, Erin explaining the Irish iconography, the clasped hands and heart.

I talk over her: “He lost his job a few years back when the place got caught pumping all kinds of rancid fat and stuff into the water. It’s still in there, I bet. Hence, the smell.”

“God, can we talk about something other than rotting carcasses?” Judy says. She is a breath away from a huff, a toe-tap away from a stomping tantrum. She wants attention and she is not getting it, not from anyone. I almost feel bad. Her eyes snap from Erin to Eddie at a dizzying clip. She tosses her head, looks to Ralph now. He’s still listening to me. “Like, anything?” she says. “Like, what should we do tonight?”

“Our uncle told us about an explosion that happened over here when he first started working at the plant,” I say. Judy wanting to change the subject is all I need to keep going. “The crew heard this terrific boom and then, sailing up three stories into the air, they saw a manhole cover. Flipping like a coin. They started calling heads or tales.” I point up at the sky, draw an arc with my finger. As I do, I actually see something in the sky. A glint of red.

Ralph squints up at where I’m pointing. “Is that a balloon?”

No one else sees it; they’re not looking hard enough. “Right there,” we say, tracing its flight. “There!” I shield my eyes with my hand, pick my way down the shore of the creek, following the little flutter. The smell of the water intensifies as I skirt a rusted cluster of rebar. This area is still active during the week, but on a Sunday, it’s just us, the charred, caustic smell, the water, the sky. The red flicker settles on the bare branch of a slim, gnarled tree.

“It’s a bird!” I say. It is palm-sized, if that, scarlet with black wings and a black tail. Its peppercorn eyes, level with its pale beak, give it a serious look, despite its festive plumage.

Ralph, right behind me, says, “Well, what did you think it would be?”

“It’s the end of June and that tree is dead,” I say. “The water is filled with oil and decay. I didn’t think it would be a perfect little bird.”

“I’m just teasing,” Ralph says. “Maybe it’s like a canary in a mine, you know?”

“Yeah,” I say. “If it dies, we’ll know that we need to get out of here quick.”

The bird makes a surprisingly throaty sound: chick-burr, chick-burr. Ralph says, “It knows we’re talking about it.”

“It must be used to being watched,” I say. “I don’t think there are many birds like this left in Queens.”

“Bird watchers call the bird that hooks them, that makes them want to buy their first pair of binoculars, their spark bird,” Ralph says.

I stare into those sugary eyes of his. “Are you sparked?”

He opens and closes his hands over his head, wiggling his fingers like fireworks. I laugh as he sparkles, drawing closer to me. I flash forward to the fall, to my own college roommate—who will she be?—asking about Queens, about my last summer there. Me telling her, “There was this guy in the Coast Guard…”

A low-flying plane roars by, descending into LaGuardia. The noise startles the bird as much as it does us. It has a bit of a false start, a stutter that gets it only as far as another branch on the tree, crying low—chick-burr, chick-burr—but then it is off, away and gone.

When the bird noise and plane noise clear, what is left is the whooshing of my own blood in my ears as Ralph leans in, the crackle of sparks, sparks, sparks. Then we hear a splash, a splash, a splash. Three in a row, or is it four?

Ralph takes off running. His strides are long and he doesn’t bobble as his boots crunch down on all manner of detritus as he flies along the shore. He is military after all. I follow, toes curled to keep my slides on.

Judy is wet, but it is Erin in the water. Eddie is in there, too. Ralph seems poised to jump in, but pauses, assessing.

“What the hell?” I yell. I am dizzy from the sparks, the run, the fumes, the worry. I hold my hands out to Erin as if she could reach.

Judy’s jeans are soaked from the knees down, a little higher on the left than the right, the water-weight causing them to droop on her hips. The tips of her blond locks are dripping and she is retreating from the water’s edge. Her eyes are wide and scared, but her mouth is set in a bitter line. “She pushed me,” Judy says. “Into that water.”

“Why is she the one in there, then?” I ask, as Erin’s head dips below the surface. She’s not drowning. She’s diving. Eddie is treading, groping under the surface, trying to get a grip on her. His face is red from the exertion and, it seems, from anger.

“You need me in there, man?” Ralph calls.

Eddie answers by kicking his way back to the water’s edge. “She’s crazy,” he says. “She won’t come out.” He uses his big arms to hoist himself onto dry land.

“Erin,” I scream, my hands balled up at my sides. “Erin, get out of there!”

“She’s crazy,” Eddie repeats. We watch, helpless, as Erin bobs up for breath, goes back under. “Goddamn it, my skin is going to fall off.” Eddie holds out his arms, examining.

Judy approaches, saying, “Let me look.”

“You,” Eddie says. To us, he says, “This one, too. She threw Erin’s ring in the water, is what this all is about.” He makes a terrible hacking sound in this throat, spits, repeats.

I feel bile rising in my own throat listening to him. I ask Judy, “Why would you do that?”

The corners of her mouth turn down. “I didn’t think,” she says. “I just saw her take it off to show Eddie and I grabbed it and threw.”

“When our uncle died,” I say, “the one who we keep talking about, the one who worked here before losing his job, he lived with our grandmother. Her gave her that ring and so she gave it to Erin. In remembrance of him. At the funeral.”

I don’t know why I say this, except that it works: Judy starts to cry. There’s no special story to that ring. There’s no way to explain what Erin is doing out there in the Creek. From here, the oil and the toxins, the heavy metals and the death, turn the water into a perfect mirror for the sky. Each time Erin dives under, it is like she disappears into the clouds. It must be deeper than it seems.

Later, after we’ve sent the boys back to the Coast Guard, after we’ve sent Judy back to Long Island, after Erin has showered, and showered again, and I’ve brushed her long blond hair, after she sleeps it off and a few days pass and we pretend what happened was funny, I go to the library and check out a field guide to birds of the coastal northeast.

I don’t know what Erin’s spark was, if it was in that empty school, or away at college, if it was stoked by the swirling oil swallowing her ring in Newtown Creek; I don’t know what she’s left looking for. But me? I lace up a pair of boots and tell my sister to do the same. We’re going to find that little red bird. 


Nicole Haroutunian is co-editor of Underwater New York. 

 

Horse Seance by Meredith Drum

For all the ghost horses haunting Dead Horse Bay, this was made for an Underwater New York event as part of Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess Art in SoHo, April 21, 2016.


OBJECT: Horse Bones

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay


Follow the link to see images of Horse Seance floating in the Flow Pool. 


 

 

Meredith Drum’s most recent project is the Fish Stories Community Cookbook: a collection of seafood recipes, local histories, stories, drawings and ecological information contributed by people who live and work in the Lower East Side of New York City. The book was compiled and produced by the Oyster City Project (Rachel Stevens and Meredith Drum) for Paths to Pier 42 and distributed at the Paths to Pier 42 Fall 2015 Celebration in East River Park.

 

Ghost Horse, 2016 by Emily A. Gibson

Emily A. Gibson created this artwork for an event in collaboration with Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess. See pictures and read more about it here.


OBJECT: Horse Bones

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay


Photographs by Nate Dorr, Dan Selzer and Emily Gibson


I make portraits of phantoms to explore the connections between history, memory, and perception. My choice of materials is often intended to draw attention to the unstable nature of these entities.  The unwieldy form of the ghost horse is made out of adhesive and other transparent material. It references the horse refineries that were once prevalent in Dead Horse Bay.  The creatures inevitable transformation as it is submerged in water and mingled with other objects is similar to the unpredictable ways we recall the past.  Some aspects coalesce while others disappear altogether.


Emily A. Gibson has exhibited her work in New York, Boston, and Provincetown, and has received grants from the Berkshire Taconic Foundation, and the Leopold Schepp Foundation. Gibson holds a Bachelor's of Fine Arts from the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and a Master's in Fine Arts from the Massachusetts College of Art in Boston. As a graduate student, she received a scholarship to travel and to study art in Shanghai, Beijing, Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto.

Sea Elegy by Bobby Gagnon

OBJECT: dead giraffe

BODY OF WATER: New York Harbor


Music Credits:

Mark Brotter - Drums

Charlie Torres - Bass

Charlie Giordano - Keyboards

Martin Bisi - Door Hinge

Bobby Gagnon - Guitars

Engineered by Martin Bisi - BC Studios, Brooklyn, NY

Image Credit: Giraffe courtesy of John R. Hutchinson. Used by Permission.

Whales by Nicholas Hurd

OBJECT: Whale

BODY OF WATER: East Hampton, Gowanus Canal


Artist's Statement

This print a re-strike of original linoleum block carvings by Clement Hurd, illustrator of Goodnight Moon. The original linoleum blocks were carved as illustrations for the Children’s book The Mother Whale written by Edith Thacher Hurd 1973. The blocks were rediscovered by their grandson Nicholas Hurd who has reprinted the blocks in the form of a larger print.


Nicholas Hurd is an artist and printer from Oakland, California. He received a BFA from the San Francisco Art Institute and an MFA from the California College of Art. Nick is one half of the art duo Mack Card and runs the Brooklyn letterpress shop Wasp Poster & Print , producing posters, cards and artist editions. He is an expert letterpress printer and has taught extensively at the Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, California and the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in NYC. 

Cages by Arden Levine

OBJECT: Birdcage

BODY OF WATER: Gowanus Canal


My mother collected antique birdcages. Nature abhors a vacuum
so we filled the cages, first with budgerigars and canaries. They died

and we filled the cages again, with exotic finches that my father chose
and a pair of lovebirds (that detested one another). They died

and we filled the cages again with a grey-cheeked parakeet and a long-
tailed beauty (that didn’t live a year and had the solemnity of a widow).

 My father vacuumed the floor beneath the cages and the parakeet
shrieked, shrieked, shrieked: “Abhor! Abhor! Abhor!” My father died

and we didn’t fill the cages again. We moved, we put the cages
in storage, we moved, we put the cages in the basement. We filled

the basement with other things and discarded the cages. I saw a cage
in the canal: the canal had filled the cage with silt and branches.

The water slapped          slapped                slapped:
                                           Abhor.                  Abhor.                                 Abhor.

 


Arden Levine lives in Brooklyn and is a reader for Epiphany.  In 2015, her poems have been or will be featured in AGNI, Rattle, The Delmarva Review, Bodega Magazine, Emotive Fruition, the NYC Poetry Festival, and elsewhere.  Arden holds an MPA from New York University and consults to nonprofit organizations.

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.

Written in the Air by George Estreich

OBJECT: Dead Giraffe

BODY OF WATER: Lower New York Bay


And everything in the river was reassembled

into a shining plane that surfaced,

its wings dripping light, and headed west:

the giraffe rinsed clean of its spots,

skin, bones, and heart, immaculate

at last; the real cars and the toy cars and the parts

they became and what became

of the parts, a vast becoming,

axles freed of rotation, bones of position,

everything polished and dissociated and new,

above the city and heading west

like a visible vanishing point,

the torn edge of a wing trailing long silver threads,

the fat nacelles leaving no vapor trail,

only a long flume of altered clarity

like the glass in an old house

where the daylight moon wavers, then solidifies.

It is going west, with everything lost, it is heading home.

I would like to be aboard, but my heart is in the river. 



George Estreich’s memoir about raising a daughter with Down syndrome, The Shape of the Eye, won the 2012 Oregon Book Award in Creative Nonfiction. His prose has been published in The Open Bar, Biopolitical Times,The Oregonian, Salon, and The New York Times. He lives in Oregon with his family.  

These Three Deer by Devin Kelly

OBJECT: Deer

BODY OF WATER: Lower New York Bay


To say they swam is image enough. And it was

not still summer, the water cold and chopped

by some knife of wind. Their heads only

above water. And I no longer know what is

moving under the surface. But to say they swam

is image enough. Most things that have left me

in this life have not done so wrapped in twine.

Though maybe I have done the pushing gone

and the throwing away, and each morning

I still have hands to toss the sheets to side

and place my feet on ground. We are all

in this hurting thing. How it moves

like river water, all around, and how it settles

like the circle tides of bays. Two of those three

died that day, in that moment after journeying,

just after bleeding on the riprap and touched

by human hands. Is to say they swam

image enough? Their eyes wide and too white

like a stranger drunk who tells you he loves you

for the very first time. I do not know

how or why or who am I to play some part

in all this dying, only that, as a child,

I ran away from home so often my father

kept a banana packed and ready for my leaving.

And these three deer, and just one left

after such display of sorrow, weaving through

what trees still stand in this city, how it

must wonder what home exists for all its

swimming, as it dances through a city yard.

 


Devin Kelly is an MFA student at Sarah Lawrence College, where he serves as the nonfiction editor of LUMINA. His poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Armchair/Shotgun, Post Road, RATTLE, The Millions, Appalachian Heritage, Midwestern Gothic, Meat for Tea, apt, Big Truths, Kindred, Dunes Review, Steel Toe Review, Cleaver Magazine, Passages North, Lines & Stars, and District Lit. He co-hosts the Dead Rabbits Reading Series in Upper Manhattan, and teaches Creative Writing and English classes to 7th graders and high schoolers in Queens, as well as the occasional children’s poetry workshop at the New York Public Library in Harlem, where he currently lives. You can find him on Twitter @themoneyiowe.

 

(Untitled) by Melissa Murray

OBJECTS: Kangamouse, Monkey Blanket, Blue Crab, No Swimming Sign

BODIES OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay, Plum Beach, Hudson River



Melissa Murray is an up and coming artist living and working in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Her works are large scale mixed medium on paper, with concepts focused on the combining of multiple environments in one still image. Selected group exhibitions at the MOSI Museum in Tampa, Florida, the Target Gallery in Alexandria, VA, Chashama in New York, NY and Causey Contemporary, and 3rd Ward in Brooklyn, NY. Solo exhibitions at Fuse Gallery, AdHoc Art and Causey Contemporary and Gallery SAS in Montreal. Her work has been published and/or reviewed in The Wild Magazine,  L magazine, The Village Voice, The Montreal Gazette, Juxtapoz Magazine, Beautiful Decay Magazine, Muse Magazine, Big, Red and Shiny and the NY Arts Magazine.

For Luck by Carlea Holl-Jensen

Drown the bird for luck, she tells me. It will keep him alive.

All right, I say.

The bird is small and yellow and white and grey, a songbird. When she puts it in my hands, I can feel its pulse shuddering against my palm. Tiny thing, I could crush it just as easily.

She holds the door to the birdcage open for me and I put the bird inside. Trapped, it beats its wings, quivering from one side to the other and twisting midair, crashing against the sides of the cage. Under the susurration and snap of its wings, a sound like breath leaving the lungs.

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Eels Swim by Aileen Bassis

OBJECTEels

BODY OF WATER: Bronx River


 

eels swim in the rivers around the Bronx

my home, the Bronx where the

shanties stood once

by the river and people fish

eels and fires flared up

from big tin barrels

 

i was there by the river in the Bronx

and a passing barge made waves

that knocked me down and my shoes

were all wet and my backside

and I sat on hard rocks

in wet underwear and waited for

the bridge to open and let

big boats through and under

the highbridge while the tower

the tower pealed out songs

to mark an end each day


Aileen Bassis is a visual artist and poet, living in Jersey City, NJ. Her artwork has been widely exhibited across the US. Her interest in book arts has led her to writing poetry. Her work can be read online at Mobius: The Journal of Social Change and will be at Eunoia Review in the fall.

Blue Crabs in the Hudson by John Proctor

Object: Blue Crabs

Body of Water: Hudson River


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The first time I met a live blue crab was on the Hudson River, in the summer of 2005. I’d taken a group of immigrant students from the Borough of Manhattan Community College to the Hudson River Museum of Art in Yonkers. We were having lunch on the pier overlooking the river when we noticed a middle-aged couple in flip-flops lounging on lawnchairs, looking out at five or six different ropes that extended into the water. Every now and then, one of them would get up, pull each rope up individually, and check a wire-mesh box at the end of it. And every now and then, they would shake a crab out of one of the boxes into a white bucket.

A group of my students surrounded the couple and began taking pictures. Both the man and the woman took the whole thing in stride, standing and posing. After serving as cameraman for most of the shoot, I asked the couple if they were planning on eating the crabs in their bucket.

“Oh yeah,” the man said, poking the crabs in the bucket with a tong, “but those are just a snack. Can’t eat a full meal of ‘em up here.”

“Why not?” I asked, their outstretched cerulean claws tapping the inside of the bucket.

“DEC,” he said.

I didn’t ask for details.

When I decided to try my hand at crabbing, I was still unsure what specifically the man was sneering at. The thrill in the idea of crabbing to me was not just pulling the spider-like creatures from their watery homes, but eating them.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) publishes a pamphlet on blue crabs in the Hudson. Strangely tucked between instructions on how to shell a crab and a recipe for crabcakes, I discovered the reason for the man’s ire:

The NYS Department of Health (DOH) recommends that women of child bearing age and children eat no crabs and that others eat no more than 6 crabs per week.

In the DOH’s advisory on eating sportfish in the Hudson, they add, “Do not eat the green stuff in crabs.” This “green stuff,” also known as the hepatopancreas, is the innards. Encased in the cavity underneath the carapace, it’s also known to seasoned eaters as the “mustard.” Part of the culinary charm of the blue crab is that it is cooked and eaten in its entirety except for the shell (and sometimes, in the case of recently molted softshells, including the shell). An unfortunate, ironic consequence of this is that its organs—particularly the hepatopancreas, which filters and contains all the toxins the crab picks up from the sludgy bottom of the river—are cooked right along with the rest of the crab. I can’t imagine anyone eating it, but the DOH’s advisory, has nothing to do with palate. The hepatopancreas is the closest thing a crab has to a liver or a spleen, so any toxins it ingests are concentrated there. And anyone who knows anything about the Hudson knows that there are plenty of toxins to pick up.

The blue crabs in the Hudson are still recovering from the industrial optimism of the Fifties. In 1995 the trade journal of the American Chemical Society, after a massive dredging cleanup in the area around Foundry Cove roughly 60 miles up the Hudson from New York City, revealed, “A nickel-cadmium battery factory released about 53 tons of mostly cadmium and nickel hydroxide suspended solid waste between 1953 and 1979 into Foundry Cove, which is tidally connected to the Hudson River estuary.”

The plant, owned by Marathon Battery, did nothing unusual. The list of organic and inorganic pollutants released into the Hudson River estuary over this period reads like a short list from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and each affects different elements and species of the Hudson in different ways.

Probably the earliest pollutant to the waters of the Hudson is Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO), a generic term for all the raw sewage that gets into the Hudson through various means. The number of sewage treatment facilities in the five boroughs, now at fourteen, has always been barely sufficient. This is never more obvious than after a hard rain or snow melt, when a person can walk to the edge of the city and see it bleeding sewage into the Hudson estuary through every crack and orifice. The main by-product of CSO is high concentrations of coliform bacteria, which were a primary reason for the downfall of New York City’s once-renowned oyster and clam fishery and still account for a large portion of the organic pollution in the Hudson estuary.

The most ubiquitous chemical pollutants in the Hudson are Polychlorinated Biphenyls, or PCBs. In liquid form they served as insulators and coolants in large industrial equipment until 1979, when they were banned by the United States Congress, three years after the DEC banned commercial striped bass fishing in the lower Hudson. Once introduced, they persist in an environment for an unknown period of time (concentrations are not much less now than they were in 1979) and they compound and accumulate up the food chain, from zooplankton to blue crabs and on up to major sportfish. Though they are considered to be on the less-dangerous end of chemical water pollutants, which might at least begin to explain why a General Electric power plant dumped between 500,000 and 1,500,000 pounds of them into the Hudson between 1947 and 1977, PCBs are a known carcinogen, as well as being known to cause skin and liver conditions. And finally, if there is an industrial fire, PCBs convert to a dioxin compound that is exponentially more dangerous.

Unlike most chemical industrial waste, dioxins have no known use, and are in fact not a catalyst but rather an unfortunate by-product of many industrial processes. Though never created intentionally, dioxins did find at least one use by the U.S. government: they were an active ingredient in Agent Orange. Like PCBs, they accumulate at the top of the food chain, and once there they compound in the fatty tissue of the organism. Particularly high concentrations may be found in breast milk, causing it to become toxic to offspring. This has caused the near-extinction of at least one species of eagle and numerous species of seals whose diets are composed mostly of large fish, and has produced the most concentrated effects among fishing communities, including the now-extinct Hudson River commercial fisheries.

The most prevalent, though by no means the only, toxic metals in the Hudson are cadmium, lead, zinc, copper, nickel, chromium, and mercury. At least one metal on the list, zinc, is beneficial in limited amounts to the human body, but all are poisonous in larger quantities. All have been listed as overabundant in the Hudson since the early Seventies; besides lead, none of their levels have been reduced appreciably since.

The collective term Poly-Aromatic Hydrocarbons, or PAHs, refers to most organic petroleum-related pollutant compounds, which may include mercury, lead, copper, arsenic, benzene, and toluene. You may notice an overlap here with toxic metals; this is because the term PAH classifies toxins not based on what they are, but what they do. All the toxins in this category compound more easily in oil than in water, so they won’t be found in any great amounts in water that’s not had exposure to some sort of petroleum emissions. That is to say, any water that’s had petroleum-fuel craft travel on it, or hosted industrial sites that create or use petroleum. Which is to say, any major body of water in the developed world. As with most toxins, PAH’s all affect the liver adversely, and like dioxins they are particularly dangerous to children and pregnant women—remember that advisory?—being directly linked not only to such physical effects as cancer, reduced birth weight of newborns, and heart malformation, but also, according to a 2012 Columbia University study, to child depression and behavioral issues.

Though only trace amounts of DDT remain in the Hudson it is worth mentioning, if only as a ray of hope. The seed for Silent Spring was an article Carson wrote for the The New Yorker in 1961 criticizing the blanket use of DDT as a pesticide in the areas immediately adjoining New York City. Its effects are similar to many of the toxins listed here: it accumulates up the food chain, is stored primarily in fatty tissue, and is carcinogenic. DDT almost caused the extinction of the American bald eagle, whose primary diet is large fish. In 1972, in response to Carson’s clarion call, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency banned agricultural use of DDT. Today, many bald eagle sightings abound in and around New York City, including one that sits atop the cross above the chapel at Manhattanville College, where I teach—a resurgence scientists and environmentalists have directly attributed to the DDT ban.

Nickel hydroxide and its battery partner cadmium are to the crab population what DDT was to the bald eagle—if any the organism ingests enough, it becomes part of its essential makeup. The major difference is that the crab is not the top of the food chain; in many cases, we are. Since the toxic effects of exposure to cadmium were discovered in the Fifties, industrial precautions were put in place that heavily restricted worker exposure. Unfortunately, U.S. industrial regulations took another two decades to begin restricting outflow of cadmium waste to surrounding waters, including the Hudson. But since the crab is primarily a scavenger, living and eating in the muck at the bottom of the harbor, every other pollutant listed above also contaminates it.

In his rendering of an old Greek-Calabrian folktale, Italo Calvino writes of a crab, much like our familiar goose, that lays golden eggs. Unlike the proverbial goose, though, the crab also renders supernatural benefits upon being eaten:

Whoever eats crab and shell will one day be king. Whoever eats crab and claws will find a purse of money every morning under his pillow.

The crab with the golden eggs takes two sons of a tailor, and makes a rich man and a king of them. The crab’s primary diet is the worst part of the environment—half-dead organisms, decaying flesh on the ocean floor, even the ocean floor itself. Rowan Jacobsen notes, in his recent essay on the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, seeing a ghost crab dining on the tar balls, “carrying clawfuls back home.” Somehow, crabs convert the most hopeless detritus the world gives them into, if not bags of money and lordship over small fiefdoms, at least a delicious meal that we have the pleasure of pulling from the sea with our own hands.

The question then becomes: what is the worst we can give them before the returns dwindle?


John Proctor lives in Brooklyn with his wife and two daughters. His work has been published in Superstition Review, Defunct, New Madrid, Numero Cinq, McSweeney’s, Trouser Press, New York Cool, and the Gotham Gazette. An avid crabber, he also teaches academic writing, media studies, and communication theory at Manhattanville College.

The Minke Whale by Isaac Kestenbaum

OBJECTMinke Whale

BODY OF WATERGowanus Canal


In the 1950s, US Navy submarines heard a strange underwater noise near Hawaii and southern California. A coiled chirping sound that sprang to a rapid crescendo, and then fell just as quickly. No one knew what it was.  The sound became known as a “boing.” Scientists later guessed it was a whale, but it wasn’t until nearly half a century later, in the winter of 2002, when a boatload of researchers in the Hawaiian Islands finally heard a boing and spotted a whale at the same time. The boing remained a mystery for so long in part because its source is one of the smallest of the whales, one that doesn’t make a big spout and doesn’t surface for long: a minke whale.

While small for a whale, Minkes still weigh up to 20,000 pounds and measure as long as 30 feet.  A couple hundred years ago, a Norwegian whaler named Meincke mistook these little whales for their bigger, more profitable relatives.  Meincke did this so often that the whales were named for him; this was in the time before everything had a name.  Minkes are also sometimes called “sharp-headed finners” and “pike heads,” because of their pointed snouts.  They often come up into the air head first, a move called “spy hopping.” Their huge mouths turn downward, but their eyes appear half-closed, as if they’re frowning drowsily.

In the spring of 2007, a huge storm hit the Northeast coast, bringing rain, snow and flooding.  It cancelled flights and drove people from their homes. New York’s governor deployed National Guard members to low-lying areas of Long Island.  And at some point during the storm, or shortly after, a young minke whale headed towards New York City.

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A news helicopter spotted the whale a few days later, on April 17, 2007, and reported that it was swimming in the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn—an inhospitable place for any marine mammal. The Gowanus was once a lush wetland, but derelict factories and tanneries now line its banks, and the water is notoriously polluted.

But the reporter was mistaken.  The whale only went as far as the mouth of the canal, where it empties into Gowanus Bay.  Other television stations, blogs and newspapers picked up the story, many repeating the initial error, first reporting the whale was in the canal, then publishing corrections.

Canal or not, the press embraced the 12-foot-long whale.  It was reported that the whale “frolicked” in the water, and “delighted and surprised even the most hardened of Brooklyn residents.” The whale even received a nickname: “Sludgie,” after the perceived condition of Gowanus Bay, though at no point does it seem the whale was covered in sludge.  Sludgie is also a reference, perhaps, to Fudgie the Whale, a type of ice cream cake manufactured by Carvel.  Fudgie is made of layers of vanilla and chocolate ice cream, milk fudge topping, and lots of something called “crunchies.”

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Much longer ago, before the invention of crunchies, before news helicopters, and before old Meincke was misidentifying whales, Thor, the Norse god of thunder, went fishing with Hymir, a frost giant.  Thor was in disguise because the frost giants were sworn enemies of the gods, massive beasts with stone heads and ice feet.

Even incognito, Thor wanted to impress and intimidate Hymir. On the way to the boat, he tore the head off one of Hymir’s oxen to use for bait.  At sea, the strength of the giant and the thunder god rowing together quickly brought the pair well beyond Hymir’s usual fishing grounds. Still, before long, Hymir caught two huge whales and tossed them in the boat.  They could have been what we now call minke whales, or they could have been almost any kind of whale; this story happened before most things had names.

But then Thor pulled up Jörmungandr, the massive serpent that encircles the whole world.  Normally this serpent lived in the deep, with his tail in his mouth.  But something about that ox head was enticing.  Jörmungandr started thrashing, hissing and spitting poison, whipping the entire ocean into a tempest.  So Thor started pounding the serpent in the head with his hammer.  This was a scary scene—even for a frost giant like Hymir, who was so frightened that he cut Thor’s fishing line. Jörmungandr sank back to the dark bottom of the ocean, and put his tail back into his mouth.  When the fishing party returned, Thor carried the whales, Hymir, and the boat itself all the way back to the frost giant’s hall, where they feasted on the two whales.

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Minke whales are still eaten today, hunted in Greenland, Japan and Norway. No one paid attention to minkes until other whales were scarce.  There are close to 200,000 minkes in the Atlantic, but it’s possible that their population has been reduced by as much as half due to whaling.  Modern whalers use harpoons tipped with an explosive. Harpooners aim for the whale’s chest, hoping that the grenade will explode in their hearts.

Sludgie’s end was less violent.  Two days after it was first spotted, it tried to beach itself near an oil refinery at the mouth of the Gowanus Canal. A representative for the fisheries service later said: “it thrashed a little, then expired.”  The Army Corps of Engineers tied the whale’s corpse to a dock, with the intention of bringing it to New Jersey for an autopsy. But when the Army first tried to lift Sludgie into their boat, the knot failed.

Sludgie’s body returned to the ocean, just as Jörmungandr did.  Divers hauled the baby minke back into the air, but the serpent is still down there.  Maybe he knows that he’s destined to meet Thor again in a true battle at the end of the world.  Thor will kill Jormangundur, then turn and walk precisely nine steps before collapsing dead from the serpent’s poison.  Until that day, Jormangundur waits, bruised, but not defeated, in the darkest, coldest part of the ocean.  Far deeper than Gowanus Bay.  Above him swim minke whales, making indecipherable noises that we will never truly name.

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Isaac Kestenbaum has worked as a newspaper reporter, a teacher, an organic farmer and a sternman aboard a lobsterboat in his native Maine. A 2008 graduate of the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies, he now works at StoryCorps in Brooklyn, New York.

Bones of Bucephalus by Joe Fritsch

OBJECTHorse Bones

BODY OF WATERDead Horse Bay


“Of all the sights a horse-rending plant offers to the world, a horse is not one"

                                                                                                                                                -Plutarch 

 there on the lip,

                                                of the cthonian ocean of long bones

how could I have known what a horse was

      before it ever rode forth in chopped waves,

                it stepped   it charged

         —before it ever foaled in a barn—

     placental wetness with the mud of its birth

                          marred a mare

                                                     a body endures so much

                                               and rots like a neigh in a field

                                                        the earth will have us each

                                                       wave gallops flankwide inland,

                                                       a shadow horse of Belowland

                                                       attributing its bones to the coast.

      I try to see the past in you,  

Stoneportal, broken coffin bone, admit me

before you were snapbacked and scalded bald

Were you the tumorous steed of a freak?

   The foaming mouth of a draft horse? 

                   Coachcarry?

Are you the legs of a veteran?

   Are you a war hero?                       Is a wave a herd?

                                                                         What brief identity the flesh provides,

                                                                                     what scant shelter is a hide!   

                                                                             when the world flips over and uncovers us

                     


Joe Fritsch studied poetry at Brooklyn College. Currently, he is the Program Assistant at Poets House, in NYC. His work has appeared online at Indigestmag.com, and in publications by Uphook Press. He lives in Brooklyn.

Humpback Whale by Amy Jean Porter

OBJECT: Baby Humpback Whale 

BODY OF WATER: East Hampton 


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Amy Jean Porter has drawn more than 1,200 species of animals for her ongoing project “All Species, All the Time.” She has had solo shows in New York, Chicago, and Paris and her work has been featured in Cabinet, Flaunt, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. Her first book, Of Lamb, a collaboration with poet Matthea Harvey, was recently published by McSweeney’s. View her work at amyjeanporter.com.

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.

Torch Song: Shipworm by Allyson Paty and Danniel Schoonebeek

OBJECT: Teredos and Gribbles

BODY OF WATER: Hudson River


Was a time what I took from you
I took into myself. My mouth
full of wood. Full of your bulk.
Now when I move, I remove you.
Nothing happens in which I don’t.
                       •

Where do I stand now the jetty
has buckled? Have heart, take after
the water. How it breaks against
itself and won’t wear out. Even this
scrap of wood—Taste. Just salt.


Allyson Paty was raised in New York City, where she continues to live. Her poems have appeared in Tin House and the text journal A Similar But Different Quality. She can be reached at: allyson.paty (at) gmail (dot) com.

Danniel Schoonebeek will be featured as the new voice in poetry in the Fall 2010 issue of Tin House. His essays and reviews have appeared in Publisher’s WeeklyTin House, and American Poet. He lives in Brooklyn and can be reached at danniel.schoonebeek (at) gmail (dot) com.

Torch Songs is a series of diptych poems on which Allyson Paty and Danniel Schoonebeek collaborate. There are many. For more information, please contact either poet.