Phillip Lopate describes the shape of Manhattan Island as‘a luxury liner, permanently docked, going nowhere’. This feeling of being tethered to the land, unable to get to sea, was a feature of New York life for much of the twentieth century. New York was an island without a coast. The West Side piers that once welcomed the Lusitania spent most of the twentieth century crumbling or behind barbed wire, while the East Side’s coves and points were cut off from pedestrians by six lanes of the Robert Moses-designed Franklin Delano Roosevelt Drive. It wasn’t much easier to reach the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or the Bronx, either: with a few exceptions, they were largely reserved for municipal or industrial use, and easiest to see from the Staten Island Ferry (en route to the borough with the most beaches). Now, slowly, the city is reclaiming its shoreline, with some spectacular results.

Three Poems by Cameron Gorman

pure silver

it only feels right sometimes
when the moon comes in and the concrete
swells like waves

the scent of inland grasses
much sweeter than this sand

sometimes when the summer feels
just so
and the wind catches you
by the ankles

your body remembers a time before
this one
a you before you are

who knew less about asphalt
and more about wood
and who knew
just when it felt right

to never lose that feeling again
on a brandy night
on a gin night
on a jack night

remembered how
to never lose



she read in a book once
about the victorian ladies
stepping around dead
things holding kerchiefs to their
belladonna eyes

they would protect themselves
from the storm
from the sweaty humanity
by perfuming handkerchiefs

holding them to their
faces fanning the
sweet water to their

she wanted to try it
with other things
with sidelong glances
and eyes that
hitched on to women
like leeches as they walked

maybe the flowers would sweeten
the air the
feeling of the air
the feeling in the air

and she clipped them to try
she spent the money
for one rose
to add to the bundle
she held them to her breasts
she hoped they might
see the flowers first



it’s impossible to keep
all the tiny pieces of myself

and they drop through the sink
through the garbage
into your mouth

i am dirty, so i shower
i shave the hair from my arms
and it washes to sea

i stem the bleeding
and plastics litter the sand

i’m quite sure i have touched
myself, or a past echo of me
when i inhale the seawater
from under the riptide

when i dig my toes into the
dirt, eat a mealy
apricot, drink cold

i am already in so much
so heavy, that it makes me wonder
why they think we have to wait
to become one
with the earth


Cameron Gorman is a student at Kent State University in Ohio, where she works for student media outlets including KentWired, The Burr and Luna Negra. She is an aspiring writer and poet, and has or will have work in the Great Lakes Review, Work Literary Magazine, Bitterzoet and Better Than Starbucks. Living in New York City for the summer of 2018 has taught her a lot about the value of forgotten things.

“Some Words...” by Sarah Passino


excerpts from “Some Words From 40-Some Days Before the Eclipse Translating Lorca’s Danza de la Muerte By Writing It In Rice Flour Around 40 Wall Street Like A Crab Or Like a Whale But For Sure For the Ants & For Sure For a Sum of the _Waste_”



thirteenth day

a loom
a rag
a rug

the sky
a skydyed
blue theres

always a ticket
says the man
taking tickets





eighteenth day

today it is 92 degrees
the long line for the rockaways
a woman says the city

takes seats from trains
to put on these boats & i know it
i know accountants back in my office

in the middle of america i had
a picture of the formula for capital
tacked up on the wall next to the

lightswitch & all day i drew data
maps on the walls in felt tip
of sons of mechanics

sons of farmers sons of army
down long low certificate
hallways past zinnia past red

mulch to gap factory back
the school & up to cricket front
circle circuit on the bottom

of each map i wrote what everyone
says who knows capitals not capital
in your pocket
so map so fable

so see it move from my window i
think the green lawn would look so
nice if we let grass grow long brown





nineteenth day

heat & no shade & no trees
& the street looks upside down
women wear floral shirts

a man hands me a one dollar bill
& both my shoes have holes in the sole
overdressed on south street

underdressed by front i walk up
the eight blocks south to front to water
to pearl to hanover to william to broad

to new to broadway to trinity trinity
is a church like a church is a king
soot refers to soot this town

was built wait slaves built this town
trinity owns this town & any whale
that washes up to 14th street but 14th

street keeps washing up slaves
built this street just below the land
of the blacks untribed by wall

or wolf free but for the wall
& the wolf i look at my uncles
cherokee feather want to ask

do we have some black blood do
we have indian blood but i know
the answer get home google 

sandals then womens cutest
sandals then cutest sexiest
sandals summer 17
& fall asleep





twentieth day

i wake up in the middle of the night
& look out & see B working still
on the couch say sorry I thought  

your foot was a goose & fall
back asleep which i don’t remember
til he tells me in the morning

laughing on his way in the shower
i fry eggs crack rind watermelon write

ants see ants/ whale sea whale/ ants see whale

on scraps of paper & read it to him
through the bathroom door he trades
one year for 150000 dollars & i stay

making breakfast read him scraps
of poems & tonight i walk from wall
street to the hudson where a poet 

tells me the constraint is where
the ecstatic come from
& i remember
J telling me about that poem thats just

a list of names z is a rich poet y is a rich poet x
is a rich poet
& at home livings the constraint
but here           maybe i just cant see them yet

a german poet tells me writing in english
is her constraint and i wonder where she
got her earrings & if i wrote in other

languages would i be able to write about
more beautiful things battery park is full up of
fireflies & men with clipboards looking up

from artillery to tops of buildings scraping
that sky tonight that all look like jewel boxes &
the breeze is so nice & i can see from one scale

to the other from here remember the night
at home fireflies synchronize their firefly
lights & how big all of us get how limitless

for a flash & at rest & loose & solvent





twenty-fourth day

the water is rough
& mystics is just another
way to say famous

what did lorca know about
a man turned to thing of waste
A blasts out from blackallacia

yo this is what it looks like wipipo
when you throw your people away

& in brooklyn ten of us on a roof

worth all together in dollars
a hundred million dollars
& drinking smokey mezcal

one as a boy watched a french painter
paint his silk walls & who would not know
that now he decides things with money

one makes 40000 in dollars for one night
to take one picture to post so far my lorca

The pepper trees up and died
taking their light-lit little berries
Camels, flesh-lashed, left too
and the cob swan lifts the white sky in his beak

It was a time for brittle things
the firefox-scratched eye, the laminated cat
the decayed iron of the great bridges
and the perfect silence because cork

in white ink unless this is printed on black
paper then it is my Lorca in black & since
it cant come through i can say it plain

the water is rough today theres no away
away today all the jokes are in red
& of course in due course all comes back


Sarah Passino is a Nashville poet living in Brooklyn. Recently, her work has appeared in Broome Street Review, Poetry Daily, and The Hopkins Review and was awarded the Rachel Wetzsteon Poetry Prize for the 92nd Street Y. She writes occasional Tiny Letters about writing days, bread committees, and what love looks like in public. She has worked as a professor, an organizer, and currently works as an editor. She is on instagram @Small Takes.




Sacrificial Objects by Sleepy Peopl

Sleepy Peopl 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: Sacrificial Objects

BODY OF WATER: Bronx River

Photographs by Nate Dorr and Dan Selzer

Sleepy Peopl are Maya Edelman and Nate Dorr. While their daytime callings are "animator" and "photographer" respectively, by night they like to break out of the minutia of applied arts and roam the beaches of New York City in search of sacred objects. The proves difficult as the sacrificial animals and offerings of fruit and flowers are made of paper and disintegrate on contact with water. They have managed to rescue a few rare specimens--they don't know their application or meaning, and are forced to seek guidance from botanica proprietors and old New York City newspaper headlines.

From Islands by Kelly Sullivan

Kelly Sullivan wrote this poem for an event in collaboration with Marie Lorenz's Flow Pool at Recess. See pictures and read more about it here.

OBJECT: Currents and Tides


At low tide on Easter Sunday we walk the donkeys
across an chois, the step, to Straw Island, the one time of the year
when new moon and sun converge to make the aquatic
almost terrestrial. The donkeys graze for three months
on marram grass and vetch, birth their foals, drink rain water left
in angled rocks except some years someone forgets
we’ve left them there and drought or storms or geography
constrict so they are half-starved, parched, and try their best
to swim. In 1974 we found their skeletons scattered across
the ground, dry as desert. An chois — the step — because
to step across from Inishmore to the island of straw rests in principle
on the fact that bodies in gravitational pull grow stronger
the closer they come together. And Easter an ancient celebration
of the rising year, when we shift our balance back to day.
Just a step between coming together or falling away.

This poem derives in large part from a beautiful passage in Tim Robinson’s Stones of Aran Pilgrimage in which he explains the gravitational forces underlying tidal movement, and the practice of taking donkeys out to graze on Straw Island off Inishmore, accessible by sandbar only at the lowest tide of the year. --Kelly Sullivan

Kelly Sullivan’s poetry and short fiction has appeared in Salmagundi, Poetry Ireland Review, Southword, and elsewhere. She published a novel, Winter Bayou, in Ireland in 2005. She teaches Irish literature at NYU’s Glucksman Ireland House.

Yoga on the Sound with Karen by Vincent DiGirolamo

A note from the writer: This one came out of a workshop with Lisa Jarnot, who astutely noted that it has the same rhyme and meter as Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner."  A happy accident.

BODY OF WATER: Port Jefferson Harbor

A rainbow of mats on weathered gray slats

         at the end of a jutting pier.

Salt air incense, lapping-water chimes,

         the harbor our studio mirror.

Like sandpipers we stand, one-leg tucked,

         eyes fixed on bobbing white hulls.

Bellies now bend toward a ceiling of cloud,

         odd creatures to high wheeling gulls.

An Azure Blue flutters into view,

         drawn by our Ujjayi breath.

Then Monkey mind leaps to the wharf of my youth

         three thousand miles west.


I see papa, forearms thick,

         mending a cork-lined net.

High-booted uncles winch fish by the ton

         and scrub down the slippery deck.

They smoke Lucky Strike, tend bar at night,

         drink Canadian Club on ice.

For exercise they specialize

         in pinochle, bocce, and dice.

I hear them cry, “Vincenzo, che fai?”*

         in steerage voices strong.

What can I say except “Namaste”

         and bow to the ferry’s “Ommm….”

*What are you doing?


Vincent DiGirolamo teaches American history at Baruch College. His works include the documentary Monterey’s Boat People, the novel Whispers Under the Wharf, and Crying the News: A History of America’s Newsboys, forthcoming from Oxford University Press. His poems have appeared in The Haven: New Poetry and the Monterey Herald. He lives in East Setauket, New York.    

Hudson Everyday by Maxine Henryson

This group of photographs was a part of the AIR Gallery summer exhibition, "If These Walls..." on Governor's Island. AIR Gallery and UNY initiated a collaboration where three writers created poems based on a water-inspired work from the exhibition. Poet Katy Lederer worked from Maxine Henryson's "Hudson Everyday"--you can read her poems here

Artist's Statement

The photographs in the series Everyday were taken from the train windows during my weekly commutes from New York City to Vermont. (1997-2006)

Mountain, Everyday, 1999
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

Lower Hudson River, Everyday, 2000
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

Winter, Everyday, 1999
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

Castle, Everyday, 1999
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

Autumn, Everyday
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

River, Everyday, 1999
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

Treetops, Everyday, 1999
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

Reflecting, Everyday, 2001
Ektacolor, print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

Spring Again, Everyday, 1999
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6

Still Light, Everyday, 2002
Ektacolor print
20 x 24.25 inches
Edition 1 of 6



Maxine Henryson is an artist and bookmaker who creates sensual, poetic photographs of the seemingly everyday. Born in Jackson, Mississippi, she lives and works in New York. She studied sociology at Simmons College, Boston (Bachelor of Science), and the University of London (Master of Philosophy) and has a Master of Arts in Teaching degree in studio arts from the University of Chicago and a Master of Fine Arts degree in photography from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her photographs have been widely exhibited in the United States and Europe and are in numerous public and private international collections, including the former Celanese Photography Collection, Frankfurt; the Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg; and the Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida.


Web Waters by Alice Neiley

There’s a perfect view of the ocean if I sit on the highest monkey bars of a Battery Park playground, or on one of the blue chairs that face north in the Poets House library across the street. Tree branches block the reality of an opposite shore. Green and yellow leaves catch Manhattan’s gauzy sunlight and the water appears endless; the Hudson River is the sea.

This won’t work in the winter of course, but for now, early October, my imaginary ocean and I still have another month or so together. Soon, I’ll just be watching as the river flows toward the New York Harbor, underneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and into the darker, truer sea I can’t see from here.

Sometimes I wonder if love is fate, a choice, or what. Can you make a list of what’s in it? 


Before moving to the city, I lived in Provincetown, Massachusetts, a small fishing village at the tip of Cape Cod. I jumped in the water every day my last year there—no wetsuit—even in January. Patchy sheens of ice over the beach some mornings, I’d dive in head first, breath leaving my body as if sucked through a vacuum. The quiet cold would tighten around me fast, squeezing all the energies I’d ever had through my body and just like that, I’d be wrapped in a rumpled towel, strangely warm. The whole experience never lasted more than five minutes. It was like being shot from the belly of a firecracker for the hundredth time—both mechanical and explosive.

I told people I did it for the invigoration, the kick-start to my day. But really it was for the moment between underwater and running to shore. When I’d burst back into the December, January, February air, only my skin noticed if there was sun, or snow, or waves. My skin woke up, questions disappeared, and for that moment there was nothing else to say or think, nothing else about me at all.  


Since moving to New York, I’m prone to anxiety attacks. Sweaty, chest tightening choke holds that seem to come out of nowhere—in the middle of a quiet stretch of Central Park, in the middle of a meal, in the middle of the night. I found Battery Park a few weeks ago, and watching the boats drift on their moorings, I can breathe.

I’ve started to make a mental list of all accessible bodies of water near the city, researched where the water is deepest, most swimmable.

“Hell’s Gate,” a portion of The Narrows tidal straight where the New York Upper Bay, Long Island Sound, and the Hudson River intersect, is 35’ to 40’ deep. But even though the tides keep the area relatively clean, I’d need a boat in order to take a dip out there, and probably a tether to attach myself to its cleat. That same tidal flow can speed up to 5.0 knots depending on the wind and lunar cycle, increasing the depth and current to a swirl unforgiving to swimmers.

When my girlfriend, Karen, and I are  apart, I think about her hands a lot. Even for the longer, three month stretches we’ve spent in each other’s company, I’ve never been able to stop looking at them: her long fingers typing, turning a key, braiding between mine like the beginnings of a web.

One winter visit to Ottawa, near sunrise, Karen threw on a giant hoodie sweatshirt and went downstairs to get a fire going. I got up, stood by the window, and rubbed my eyes. There. There was the ocean. I pressed my nose up against the snow spattered glass and almost yelled out why didn’t you tell me it was here!, when a pink and blue tinted cloud lifted, and the smoke stacks across the city appeared, the hard angles of houses.

“Hey do you think the almond milk from last week is still good?” Karen called up the stairs; she knows I like it in my coffee.  

I sat down on the bed. I covered my eyes with my hands and rubbed, trying to get the ocean back.

I sometimes still wish she would figure out a way to bring it to me, even just a little piece—a piece of my old self for this new, concrete self I don’t recognize at all.

“I’m never going to be able to buy you a nice sweater for a gift, am I?” she joked once. I wanted to tell her that of course she could. I wanted to say I’d love anything from her. A sweater, a bunch of flowers. I wanted to be an easier person. But what I wanted even more was proof that if I was to forget who I was, she would remember. I wanted her to know that one rose and a bouquet of carnations were found in New York City’s Dead Horse Bay, still fresh and colorful, probably not even a day old. I wanted her to know—osmosis, telepathy—that those flowers would be a perfect gift. Or a photo of those flowers, or even if she had been the person to tell me about them—how they survived underwater and died when they were pulled out.


There’s a tangle of cross currents known as the “The Spider” off Battery Park. The Hudson’s breadth and the East River’s fast flow converge at their worst about two hours after high tide. The current rushes north in the Hudson River and west from the East River. This spidery water movement can cause ships to be trapped, unable to turn or change course under their own power. For hours, no one realizes they’re motionless, stuck, even in the place they most understand how to navigate.


When I turn all the other lights off, my room is illuminated only by a string of Christmas lights, completely green. For a moment I’m not pretending to be somewhere else. I’m not wishing whatever I’ve left behind would come back.

The Hudson River is not the ocean, but they’re the same color, especially when the light hits at 6pm. My room is suddenly the flashing safety light on top of coast guard stations, buoys, lighthouses, ship masts, underwater forests. 

Alice Neiley has a BA in English from the University of Vermont and an MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from Hunter College in New York City. Her work has been published in Vermont Quarterly, Nashville Review, Eckleburg Review, Brandeis University’s Kniznick Gallery, ReSearch: Ezine of Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, ReviewYou, Tottenville Review,, Tahoma Review, Provincetown Arts Magazine, and now Underwater New York. She currently works as a creative writing professor for undergraduates at Hunter College.


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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Following the Water: Snapshots of my Everyday Journeys by Cheryl French

BODIES OF WATER: Saw Mill River, Harlem River, Bronx River, Hudson River, Rum Brook, Sheldon Brook, Silver Lake, Andre Brook

Sitting beside the Bronx River with the sun warming my back and a gentle breeze tossing my hair in my face, I hear the whistle and clatter of the trains as they rumble to and from Grand Central. I hear the hum of traffic along the parkway. I hear the high-pitched whir of the HVAC system for the train station. I also hear robins, chickadees, sparrows, and orioles chirping, geese honking, new spring leaves rustling, and water flowing in eddies and currents down the river. This is what I love, and this is why I walk.

Nearly three years ago, I decided to leave the stability of my full-time job and return to the uncertain world of freelancing. I also let go of my car, choosing instead to rely on public transit and my own two feet. My work takes me all over Westchester County, where I live--a land of suburbs and small villages just north of New York City--and the city itself.

Water shapes my days and nights. From my perch on top of the hill, nearly every step out my front door propels me toward water. The mighty Hudson pulls me forward. It provides a constantly changing landscape and a reassuring familiarity at the same time. I follow the Hudson to and from work most days. I bid it farewell as I turn to follow the Harlem River, and I greet it upon my return. There are other waterways, too, many of which I never would have noticed from a car. Like me, many of the smaller rivers and streams eventually make their way to the Hudson, or they flow into the Long Island Sound, which then mixes with the East River, which finally joins with the Hudson in the Upper Bay. 

As with walking, relying on public transit requires time and patience. My schedule is not fully my own. Half the time, I have to rush to make a train or keep an appointment, only to arrive at one place with time to spare before the next leg. I have learned to savor those in-between moments as opportunities to explore; water is everywhere. The Saw Mill River, the Bronx River: I used to drive the parkways; now I walk beside the rivers themselves. Mamaroneck used to be the name of a town I could never remember how to spell or pronounce. Silver Lake was a preserve I read about online and thought I needed a car to visit. Then there are the streams, brooks, and tributaries: Andre, Sheldon, Rum, and others whose names I am still learning. They appear and disappear, forced under roads and buildings.

Taking photographs reminds me to pay attention. Sometimes I want to remember a particular moment or the play of light and shadows on the water; sometimes I want to return to a photo to try to identify a flower, tree, bird, or stream; sometimes I merely want to document how a scene changes from week to week.  

I can’t always stop to take photos, nor can I always capture images the way I see them. Even when I do not actually snap a picture, the habit has changed the way I see and experience the world around me. I have discovered tranquil water in the midst of urban and suburban settings where busy highways, parkways, and city streets lie just outside the frame. I see the trash, the abandoned shopping carts, and other signs of human carelessness, the ways we try to control nature and direct the water to suit our purposes, and the birds and other creatures that thrive in and along the waterways despite it all. Following the water means being rewarded by moments of quiet beauty, by the gangling grace of long-legged birds taking flight, by the glassy smoothness, gentle ripples, icy patterns, rough whitecaps, and angry currents of the water. I move slowly, and I stop to look.

Cheryl French is a writer, educator, editor, and photographer. She lives in Tarrytown and spends her days traveling around the Greater New York City area trying to engage her students in the wonders of the English language. She takes photographs along the way. You can follow her on daily rambles on Instagram:

A Waterside by Tobias Carroll

OBJECT: White Boat

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay

On the small kitchen table lay a set of objects: a vial of pills that looked prescription but bore no prescription; the scuffed cover of a punk CD of unknown origin; and one of the manuals, the writing on its cardboard cover Sharpie-scrawled and illegible. Like the pills, it had arrived from her mother the previous day. Vera Schiele Obek stood over it all, eyeing the items and wondering what the coming voyage would hold.

Her mother had the unified theory of nostalgia. Her mother toured obscure universities in Europe now, and would occasionally surface in interviews on cult website and newsletters. It was a kind of fame; she had opted for this shadow academia instead of the more accepted avenues in which she’d once traveled. Sometimes Vera would see her mother’s name listed on the covers of still-extant countercultural or psychedelic publications. Sometimes it seemed to her to be the stuff of crankery. On the other hand, the pills, and their undeniable effects. That cascade of memories, of knowledge, of some other self. She was never sure what they were meant to be: a past life, a parallel life; a vision of a life she could have had had she been born into a different skin, a different nation, a different waterside.

And so Vera lived out here on the borders of the Navesink River in a kind of exile. Low-slung buildings and boat slips and the sound of automotive traffic heard from across the water. Her last boyfriend had muttered, “I hate myself sometimes,” in his sleep, and she’d parted ways with him not long after the dozenth time she’d heard it in the midst of wracked snores. She had come to this place six years earlier and had stayed quiet, temping sometimes and sometimes accepting assignments from her mother: rites to be carried out on the water to stifle incursions, to wound the pockets of nostalgia that were born, shimmering, off the coasts of cities and slowly made their way towards buildings and trafficked avenues, promising docile nightmares.

When she had been a child, when her mother’s academic life had been a more traditional one, Vera believed in undiscovered blocks behind the shopping centers they frequented. She believed in gaps and cracks and archways; that there was something mysterious to be found there. A store that sold something unavailable, its proprietor just waiting for the right customer to walk under the jingling bell by the door; or a park on the shores of a secret river. A potentially private miracle. Instead, there was this.


The routine had codified by now: the arrival of a manual and the accompanying pills. Vera would drink down one or two of the latter and wait for the memories to come, first in dreams, then to walk among in meditation. And then, on the following day, she would take the boat out to whatever corner of the water had been specified, would carry out some action, and would have the beatific taste of another’s life to walk in, parallels to carry with her and fan out like a prognosticator’s deck.

Her mother had explained it to her once, or at least had gotten there halfway. Her mother had still been developing her theories then; was still salvageably normal. Vera remembered her in her workshop, gloved hands clutching compounds, powders; distilling and combining. “These patterns,” her mother had said to no one in particular. “You can chart them, I think.” At that age, Vera never knew if she was the recipient of these lectures or simply a bystander to something else, a secret progression, a war against a concept given form.

Vera sat at the table and read the manual. Theories of overlay and nostalgia; the notion of displacement, of collective memories, of incursion. Her mother was fond of the word, and had begun using it around Vera’s twenty-first birthday to describe the blossoming, burgeoning vessels that they sought to staunch. In the manual, Vera came across numerous references to ships unearthed from sea floors and ships rebuilt and lost again. Sweden raising the Vasa; the Bounty remade for a World’s Fair long past, then sunk again; tall ships in New York Harbor in 1992. The incursions, her mother wrote, came in the shape of sailing vessels, inconspicuous in their scale. They would reach the shores of the nearest city and spill out of their forms in cryptic light. And the minds of the cities would ebb and wander and grow archaic.

From reading enough of her mother’s handwriting, Vera understood that the pills were a sort of vaccine, an isolated dose of another’s past to keep the false ships’ charm from overwhelming her. She had never actually seen one of the phantom ships; she had seen discolorations in the water, a patch of fungal orange in the Atlantic’s familiar slate-blue, more than once. She didn’t know how she would recognize one if she did see it: from the type in the manual, they were indistinguishable from the real thing save to the touch -- and to touch one was to be bonded to it. The movements of the phantom ships’ phantom crews were sometimes sickly, their forms limited -- but how to judge that against ordinary sameness, ordinary flaws?

Vera swallowed the pill. She would read the manual in its entirety tomorrow. She folded the cover back, black industrial tape serving as binding and fulcrum of the cover’s text both. In the memories summoned by the pill. she stood on the Australian coast and watched an ancient fleet approach. She was herself and she wasn’t; soon, she knew, she would gaze in a mirror, would understand more of her face and her fate. The pills made it easier to understand the influx, the mid-water structures, and the threat that they caused, but the flood of memories that accompanied them left her disoriented, unsure of herself. Sometimes, she was unable to recognize half the items in her home for days.


Vera had bought the boat from a fisherman who had told her he was trading up. She had had it for as long as she’d lived there; it was white and fully open, a shade under twenty feet; fast. She lived walking distance from its slip. It could get her as far as she needed to go, which was local; trips that took her close to Manhattan or Long Island had never been required. The chop outside Staten Island echoed off the bottom; it never failed to raise her and drop her and leave her feeling wracked, her inner ear attuned to different rhythms. It seemed a sensible barrier.

Today, that barrier would be crossed. Inside the back cover of the manual, Vera’s mother had written “near Gun Hill,” and “look for the Ironclads.” And so Vera charted a rough course: out to Raritan Bay and north, tracing Staten Island’s coastline and passing beneath the Verrazano. Up the Hudson, past skyscrapers and maritime facilities, and north. And afterwards, refueling, somewhere safe on the trip home.

The following morning, she woke early, bought a sandwich and a few bottles of water from a nearby deli, and walked towards the slip where her boat was stored. The gas tank was full; she removed the boat’s cover and let herself sit for a few minutes, savoring the newborn moments of the morning, the sun still working its way up the sky. In the boat was the bag of food, a cup of coffee, her mother’s manual, materials for stifling the incursion, and the remaining pills.

Vera sat and opened the manual to its last section, the journal entries that her mother had Xeroxed, the usual prelude for manifestoes to come. The first line to catch Vera’s eye was this: “They always embraced the trickster, even when he unhoused them in the name of chaos.” Vera nodded; she would probably read this same sentence in a year or two as part of a properly bound tome. She liked to think of herself as her mother’s first reader, though she knew that this was not the case. A peer reviewer, then. Or someone to pull her from the brink, or someone to be pushed from some kind of precipice.

Soon enough, it was time to cast off, to start the engine, and to begin her journey north with a slow exit from the slips. Not yet a lot of boats on the river, she saw. Good. It would be an unpunctuated trip, at least for the first forty-five minutes: time enough to pass Sandy Hook and head north, into the chop.

The incursion, Vera’s mother had written, was triangulating itself around two sources: the display of a restored early submarine in a Chelsea art gallery and a museum exhibit on Civil War ships elsewhere in the city. This one, she had written, was different; this incursion might be in the early phantom stage, where an echo of a form, the outline of something old and familiar, might be rising.


She rode through the swells, shuddering with each of the boat’s collisions with the water’s surface. This was always the question when dealing with water this open: should you take it fast and risk the jostling, the uneasy quarrel from side to side? Or should you go slower and risk drift, aimlessness, a loss of position? She had never tried to reach the city from her home. These broken skips over the water’s darkening surface summoned fear. Her life jacket would certainly keep her afloat, but who might see her out here, stranded, miles from any shoreline, an anonymous crier on the open water? She had never capsized, and hoped never to capsize. She feared taking on water; she feared that one of the boat’s impacts after rocketing from a wave might split the hull open, might serve the same purpose as the capsizing she so dreaded.

Irrational, she knew. Still, rationality wasn’t why she was out here. If she wanted empirical evidence, there were better places to go than to stifle phantom ships looking to wear down the progress of cities. This was where she and her mother parted ways: Vera’s mother had devised measurements and measuring instruments to calculate the degree of the incursion, its rate, its purpose. Not for the first time, Vera wondered if her mother was mad, if the pills were placebo, if this weren’t some long con being pulled on her. Not the best anxiety to have as one’s ship was tossed on the open water.

The eastern coast of Staten Island drew closer, and she turned the boat slightly, her path curving to meet its jagged peaking arch. She hated this sound: the enraged burble of the engine and that rhythmic splash splash splash as she flew over waves and crashed down, again and again, her craft now wobbling, now proceeding straight ahead. It would lurk in her mind even more than the water’s lingering dizziness, the lasting sense of unsteadiness that would come when she returned to land.

Rituals were a large component of her mother’s manuals. They seemed at once ancient and hodgepodge, an improvisational riff on some half-formed idea of what an ancient rite might have been like. There were objects that she would throw into the open water, some of them common, some requiring research, trips to out-of-the-way groceries or orders placed by mailorder. And yet: she’d been told that her trips had been successful. It was, Vera thought, a strange way of being. There was nothing to lose her focus on here, the coastline and the water beckoned. There was never a question of bringing someone along on these trips: her mother, perhaps, but her mother was far away, living in Berlin or Tallinn on some obscure fellowship and fundraising and amassing the monies needed for these sorties. And no, there was no one else.


As she passed Governor’s Island, she had a thought that this might not go as easily as she had hoped. The sky seemed an odd shade of blue, saturated and hollow. Something seemed to loom there in the north. She’d checked the forecast, and had seen no sign of storms. As the city’s financial district rose to her right, she dry-swallowed two of the pills. Soon afterwards, she needed to blink before recognizing billboards and signs on Manhattan’s coastline. English, she realized; she was translating it out of English and back into it again. Again she wondered whose memories these were, if they even were memories or simply concepts, a distillation of an identity into something more abstract. A reshaping of her mind’s chemistry.

As she passed beneath the George Washington Bridge, she took another; thirty seconds later, the incursion seemed clear to her, a blossoming where before there had been only discolorations. A change much further along: a miscolored bubble or an egg or the tip of a clay iceberg awaiting form. It loomed; she could see, as she blinked, its afterimages, roots below the water’s surface. Cracks and fissures that spread, that reached out, waiting to envelop. Vera was a thousand feet from it now. She slowed the boat; it still tossed, but in the Hudson the cacophony was less pronounced. She took the ingredients assembled to dispel the incursion in hand and waited to approach.

And then the incursion vanished. No discoloration in the water; no roots or trails beneath her. She ingested another pill, and then another, and it returned to her. Its presence could again be felt; and so she turned the boat and proceeded towards it. As she looked around the landscape,  she noticed an abundance of grey; slowly, it came to her that she was now colorblind. Where once there had been red and green, now there was only an absence, a noncolor that was, in its own way, as disconcerting to her as the putrid shade of the incursion’s stain.

The documents of her mother’s that Vera had read over the years were inconclusive about the source of the incursions. There were hints that they came from some sort of collective mood.  Vera’s mother sometimes suggested other eras; even parallel worlds. Not for the first time, Vera wondered about the source of the pills and the memories that they brought. All of them seemed to come together in her: the Vera she knew; the colorblindness; the other languages that now swam through her mind. A delegation that made an outline around her, and a fluctuation that made that outline shudder.

Once again, the incursion vanished; once again, Vera swallowed a pill and waited for it to reappear, and for something else to follow it and live in her mind. This time, it was memories: a city block with roots rising from the pavement, and a child walking along those streets in early winter. Certain buildings resembled Astor Place; others seemed displaced from the streets around her own home. It was a new city or it was a lost city or it was a false city or it was something remaking itself, something assembling itself, something in the process of becoming. Or the landscape was overtaking her. Or she was being re-entered in the world, that space she once occupied revamped; she thought briefly of home, and four distinct front doors flashed through her mind.

Before her was the incursion. Fifty feet away it loomed, then flickered; another pill brought it back into focus. Vera saw it starting to ghost, saw its essence start to lift, beginning to approximate a ship’s hull, the brackish water lifting like a thin and awful mist. It would have been the hull of something huge, she saw. A tall ship or something stout and military or a fishing boat returning from northern waters. She was at twenty feet now; she pulled the materials from her bag and pitched them at the incursion’s center.

The incursion ossified for a moment: those reaching walls, the harbored structures that reached towards the sky suddenly becoming white, briefly solid, then crumbling into a saltish ash and falling back towards the water. It was done; her elements expired, her pills consumed, the manual no longer needed.


There was a slip on her way back, near Sheepshead Bay. She took the boat there slowly; there would be fuel, or there would be somewhere to stop and rest, somewhere to set foot on solid ground and abate the rocking, the constant rocking that pervaded her body. She saw it, that familiar space with Coney Island’s midway in the distance; a series of moorings and ladders and piers, and she recognized the space where her craft would go. She let it drift in, momentum bringing it to the dock; her hands found ropes and tied the boat loosely, foregoing familiar knots, and left it there to rest or to drift. She walked on the pier and she took the piers onto paved-over soil and she stood there in New York, feeling at home; she glimpsed her building not far away and walked towards it; and if someone had called out to her the name Vera Schiele Obek, she would have paid no attention. The day’s journey was over and the sea’s pull on her faded, ebbed, had never been. 

Tobias Carroll is the managing editor of Vol.1 Brooklyn. His fiction and criticism has recently appeared in The Collagist, Hair Lit, Vol.1, The Fanzine, The Paris Review Daily, Tin House, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @TobiasCarroll.

The Orisha of Iron, or How the Horseshoe Came Back to Homeboy by Rich Villar

OBJECT: Horseshoe

BODY OF WATER: Bronx River

Homeboy did everything he was told to do.

He asked which Orisha was the one for iron.
He found out it was the same one for war.
He took this as a sign.
He said some words and danced when nobody was looking.
He found some beads and started wearing them.
He did not make the connection between tricksters and St. Anthony.
He listened to Aguanile, and was really feeling it.

On a dead run, he flung a horseshoe into the river.
He tripped and fell by the bank and swore he heard laughing.
It was a sign when they came to kill him.
There was a reason for the iron he let fly like rain.

He was protected by something greater.
He had faith in this,

even when the policia broke the door down
and flung his protected ass to the kitchen tile.
The orisha of iron is in these bars.
He said, I will not stay here.

And he didn’t. But the orisha of iron
kept him for fifteen years anyway.
He was protected from something.

Upon release, he came back to the river,
Still wondering where he went wrong.
When he got there, an old man in yellow waders
plucked an old horseshoe out of the mud.

“I think you dropped this, brother,”
he said.


Rich Villar is a writer originally from Paterson, New Jersey. He directs Acentos, an organization fostering audiences and community around Latino/a literature. He has been quoted on Latino literature and culture by both The New York Times and the Daily News, and his poetry and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Black Renaissance Noire,Hanging LooseBeltway Poetry QuarterlyAmistadLatino Poetry Review, and the acclaimed chapbook series Achiote Seeds. Since 2003, he has served as co-curator and facilitator for the Acentos Bronx Poetry Showcase and the Acentos Writers’ Workshops, both in the South Bronx. His first collection, Comprehending Forever, is a finalist for the 2013 Willow Books Literature Award for poetry.

They Come to Me by Allison Amend

OBJECTVoodoo and Santeria Objects


They come to me, reeking of desperation, eyes glassy with tears, weak brown like coffee. Señor Gold, they say, can’t you help me?

Can’t you help me get my man to stay?
Can’t you help me find a job?
Can’t you help me make the demons go away? They burrow in my skin like snakes.

Of course, I always answer. Here, take this bat’s blood and mix it with Fire of Love Oil. Then add just a drop of Narcissus. Use it when you wash his pillow case. He will never stray again.

Take a bit of the Manteca de Corojo, yes, the same as you anoint Changó with. With your index finger, smear some on this candle. Let it burn to the ground. Here is a special holder that will make sure the Orishas see it, and also make sure the candle does not fall over and burn your apartment building down. You will have a job within two weeks.

Take this angelica root. Put it in your shoes and wave incense over it for an hour a day. When was the last time you went to a bembe? There is one on Friday in the basement.

When I opened the business, I was my only employee. I made up potions, invented love spells, picked unhexing herbs at random. But after a while I started to hear what works. And then I began to know.  Lemongrass helps joint aches. Mosaka Oil cures baldness. One customer arranged for ten chickens destined for sacrifice to be delivered to the loading dock in thanks for curing her husband’s stomach cancer with a mixture of apazote and star anise. I have heard of answered prayers for wealth, for vigor, for fortitude, for love. And while I’m sure there are scientific explanations for these coincidences, also, I’m not so sure.

So when he gets sick, my child who has my heavy brow, my brooding nature, I know what to do.  I leave the upstairs office and walk the long floor like I used to, taking inventory in my head out of habit.

“What you looking for, boss?” Teofilio asks me.
“Just making the rounds, Babalawo.” Ten years ago I advertised a janitor position. When I hired Teo I hired a priest, a bodyguard, a spiritual advisor.
“What his symptoms are?” he asks. And a psychic.

The next day, while my wife takes our son to the doctor I sprinkle calamus root on his bed. I take the palos and make an altar to Inlé, which my wife takes down when I go to work. She leaves a note: “We are Jewish, Josh.”

Now she says, “Go home, Josh. Take a shower. I’ll stay here.” I look up from the floor. The tile in the hospital looks identical to the store’s flooring, the same large white squares marred by black pock marks like finely shredded bladderwrack. Her eyes are dull, as though she’s wearing a film over them.

I don’t look at our son, breathing heavily in the too-big bed.
“And Josh,” she says, “If I come home and find any of that voodoo crap, I’m leaving you.”

I stop in at work. It’s a Friday afternoon and the Wiccans have the basement worship space. They sing in minor harmonies which drift like incense smoke up to the store floor.

I get what I need, and instead of going home, I take the 12 bus to the river. I pick a spot where I won’t be interrupted, and I toss the twigs, the bits of plastic, part of a sock, to the side. Then I rake the sand so that the undulations point toward the water, wiggling like something caught. I kneel on the bank and put the trident in the sand. Silver snakes climb its tines, and I stroke them to feel their cool scales. Around the base I arrange the three fish and I make Ochosi’s arrow point toward them. The wind lifts and sets the pendants swinging on their tethers, the fish hook balanced by the caught fish, writhing on its lure. I hurry to sprinkle the narcissus flower water before the wind dies again. Then I look at the river and in its rippling I see my desperate brown eyes glassy like coffee. I scoop it all up and throw it as far as I can into the middle of the river. It floats for a moment—silver plated only—then sinks slowly as it travels downstream. I use the sage brush to sweep the raked sand into the river.

And then when he gets better, I know.


Allison Amend, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is the author of the Independent Publisher Book Award-winning short story collection Things That Pass for Love and the novelStations West, which was a finalist for the 2011 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the Oklahoma Book Award. Her newest novel, A Nearly Perfect Copy, was just published to much acclaim. She lives in New York City, where she teaches creative writing at Lehman College in the Bronx.

Crack and Break and Heal by Nicki Pombier Berger

OBJECT : South Street Seaport Museum

BODY OF WATER : East River


Editors’ note: This story was written for an UNY reading in collaboration with the American Folk Art Museum’s exhibition “COMPASS: Folk Art in Four Directions” at the South Street Seaport Museum. She was inspired by the history of the Museum’s building and, among others, the works of art “Cane with Female Leg Handle” and “Noah’s Ark.”



Of all us hotel souls, burdened and bound to the Parkers by birth or debt or a blindered need of work, you’re the one the world will fail. Like the headlines you hawked before you landed here – two cents a week, two weeks two weeks too many you said – chance and place will collude to kill you:




I hear the newsboys on Fulton each morning; the headlines are hungry, the teapots have teeth, the earth lifts its shoulders and kills with a shrug, and even the boats explode, fire eats its fill of the crew and leaves their ash to dirty the water that wouldn’t save them.

I would save you, my fool, from the sea.


I once broke my needle, split in the unforgiving sole of Mr. Parker’s boot, whose heel my knuckles know by heart. You stole a great bone from the hotel kitchen and shaved of it a fistful of needles thin as hair, strong as teeth. I suck the needles now, before I lick the thread to get it through.

Only you see my hands where the crushed bones heal and break, heal and break.

I don’t know what Mr. Parker does to loose his boot sole so. It’s there each week, slick with fish and stinking in my piles of mending, the tenants’ breeches and sheets torn or stained. Lemons for rust, butter for tar, boiled milk for wine, salt for coffee and for blood.

You sharpen your knife nightly with a piece of coral stolen from a sailor, a treasure from unreal words: Bora Bora, California. One day I’ll go, you say. Stay, I think. The coral pink as a tongue. A prick of blood the time I licked it.


A girl is staying here, her hair a weave of braids tighter than my stitches. She sits beside the window, taps it absently with her paintbrush, in the dirtied light grey as a corpse.

How can you stand it, she says, this endless day.

I move my broom, embarrassed by her insolence.

You, she says, are you dumb?

I’ve never been seen, am saved from speaking as her mother walks in. The girl becomes an angel, her face softened to an attitude of sadness, her hair like two hands folded.

I’m nearly done with the border, she says, see the boughs?

You have your father’s hands, the mother says, and runs a finger along some line I can’t see.The ship should be leaving, my dear, not coming.

It’s her, the angel cries, staring at me, I can’t think.

Crack and break and break and heal. A Captain’s widowyou stupid girl. I taste the fish of his boots on my knuckles.

And still I can’t stay away. I cup my ear to her door, to the silence of her painting, while her mother attends to the family affairs. Rosetta from the kitchen kicks me, shaking the tray of tea she’s brought, smacks me on her way out.

Later in the kitchen, we’ll sit by the stove and she’ll hold me in her lap and stroke my cheek with the cool hump of a spoon, she’ll tell me how the captain died, shipwrecked and starved until he ate his own flesh, finger by finger, down to the bone.


I find you, my fool, hunched over and fighting yourself where we all sleep. The pale daytime dark shifts with your short, hard breaths. Your teeth gleam and vanish, gleam and vanish. You look hungry, your face a rumpled sheet. I know your hungry face, the one you swallow to save the Parkers satisfaction from your pain.

How much hungrier you’ll be shipwrecked, my fool. I came to tell you. Get out girl, you shout, and tip onto your cot like the ship I know will fail you, sucking in the air the sea won’t share, calling Jesus Lord!

I know He’ll fail you, too. Fear closes my throat like a fist. Is this what it will feel like, sinking? On the cot, your back to me, your ribs lift and fall, lift and fall like the gills of fresh caught fish.


I know the world will fail you because it unfailingly holds you up, using up your store of luck on foolish foolishness. I want to shout it at you like a newsboy, Foolish Fool Wastes Luck on Foolishness!

There you are, walking down Fulton just out of reach of a workhorse straining at its bit, teeth the size of mallets that would crush you to the bone, and you laughing, skipping beside its blinders, flicking it with filched pepper until the fishmonger’s whip nearly snaps you.

There you are, standing just behind Mrs. Parker, fingertips in two pitted cherries, the red-black bulbs held up like a bust and my lips risking insolence, quivering back a laugh.

There you are, at The Bridge Cafe, an ear for some sailor, his back curved like a question over the dark shine of the bar, gripping his drink like an answer, yarning the night away, so far lost in the seas of his mind that he doesn’t see you’re the one tapping the street stones home with his scrimshaw cane.

You show it to me the next day – a backbent leg, smooth as a banister, dirty white as cream, the toes neat like nice teeth. You spin and slam it to the stone, you cock your elbow and feign fancy, give me your gentleman’s smile.

Needles from bone are nothing to what I’ll send you from the seas.

I pinch its thin ankle, want to snap it off. A whole lady, you say, running your thumb up and over the bend in the leg, slow so I blush and turn away. You laugh, and flaunt and vanish the cane the whole month of the sailor’s stay.

There you are atop the tumbler, one slip away from death. Come, you say, come see this.Shush, I plead, your unwhispered voice like a drape whipped open, like the sudden sun.

You sneak me from my corner, wrap me in your jacket and tuck up my braids under the hat I’m mending. The hat rank with unfamiliar sweat and the overripe fruit of an Argentine balm the sailors who live to tell say blocks the hungry sun. The balm and the danger, your calm, my sour milk coward’s stomach, the thrill rising in silence up my throat – is this what it would be like at sea, you and me? We sneak up the staggered servers’ staircase to the top floor, and then there you are in the dim heights where the Polacks crank the tumbler endlessly to shake each coffee bean from burlap sacks as big as beds.

For a moment we watch them from the dark of the stairwell, each bag smothering their chests and heads, entangling their thighs, as they sigh and lift each like a fainted woman, boneless and deadweight, up, up and over, into the giant wheel.

You step out and greet them and I cling to the shadows, watching as you reach and grab the wooden lattice and then, no, climbing as they start to crank, no, climbing, no, against the wheel, you and the Polacks laughing, the wheel spinning faster now and you at the distant ceiling, leaping from beam to beam as the wheel spins and the wood moans like the dying and the bags within shush shush like the sea, the hidden beans clatter to waiting trays in pops like Rosetta’s fry oil, and I’m laughing too, and crying at your grace, your long legs the legs of a horse, swift and unthinking or no, the grace of a sail that needs only speed to start and never stop, whose need is only and always to fill and fill, or no: finally, you’re a fool, and I’m not crying, I’m clawing with a bone needle at the soft brick. If I knew my letters I’d write it clear: Fool. Fool. Fool.

You steal from the Polacks, too, whole fistfuls of beans you roll over your tongue and crush with your teeth while you work. You smell like morning all day long.

There you are in the hotel parlor after the Parkers’ anniversary party, alone now in the room where all night we’d been locked in battle against the seaport elite, whose grip on the Parkers’ good glassware loosened as the night went on until the parlor looked bucked by the sea.

We were there to right things, to steady the china shivering in Colonel Hofsteader’s hand, palsied with brandy. To save from dripping the enormous candlestick Mr. Parker lifted and held with both hands beneath his belt, a roar like fire filling the room in one breath, and you there to smile along, to kneel before him and cup your hand beneath the candle, to catch the burning wax, to return it to its place among the ravaged platters of lamb.

We were there to offer our anonymous bodies to the midnight needs of their blinded hands, the round of Rosetta’s shoulder which my cheek knows by heart now home for someone else’s, the Irish girls brought in for the night locking eyes with one another while their milk white, freckled necks stiffen to the reaching fingers of the Parkers’ guests.

I sink into a corner and watch the Captain’s Widow want you, watch you know this and grow bold, watch you lift your fox face just so, so your trim nose and lean arms and neat black brows all seem to point to her, no matter where in the room you are.

I see her see only you, see her slide up beside you and lift from the table an empty oyster shell, see her point it at you like a tongue. You dip it in her brandy, feed her the little sip. Her lips open in a laugh I can’t hear over the riotous piano, the stomping feet of those still able to stand and dance.

And now all are gone but me unseen in my corner and you, unknowing fool. There you are, holding a dying candle beneath Mrs. Parker’s tin bonnet, an anniversary gift, a whole wardrobe of these intricate tin jokes lined up along the mantle, stiff as the dead.

You hold the bonnet head-high, the weak wick of candlelight bloomed to flame within the cave of polished tin. You sway to the music still ghosting the air, the same music I hear as real in my head as the face you must see in that empty bonnet.

You’re hearing the same music, I know because you dance in time to it, and it’s my face you see, I know this, too, it must be, and I nearly emerge from the corner but you spit on your finger, extinguish the flame with a hiss, replace the bonnet on the mantle.

You walk past me to the window, unknowing, and as you pull back the drape to let the dawn seep in, I see her broach pinned to your sleeve at the wrist. It bears her dead husband’s crest, the vessel that wrecked him, a small brass serpent wound up its mast. I’ve seen it in the girl’s painting, studied it while I dust. I know it means I’ve lost you.

It will vanish into the vault so hidden even I, your constant watcher, don’t know where you keep it. With your coral and your scrimshaw and your pennies, with your knife and your schemes, with your notion of leaving for the sea. Don’t you know you’ll need the one thing you fail to stow away – luck, wasted here on steady ground, you foolish unsuspected thief?


The girl and the Captain’s Widow stay on.

You’ve joined me in the listening, only you get through her door easy as a ghost, and then it’s you I’m hearing. In the morning you’ve brought her Turkish coffee, dirt thick in the Turks’ tulip glasses. Come noon it’s cucumbers, peeled how I like them and cut to glistening blooms. Later you ask me for a fistful of elderberries to take her. I’m in the kitchen washing up. I whip you with my wet rag and you catch my wrist and pull me to the stove, hold my hand above the rattling kettle until it starts to scream. Rosetta comes in and shrieks, you drop my hand and leave.

Rosetta pulls a spoon from the icebox and I hold it, thinking of the meadow you snuck me to last summer, as far north as I’ve gone, where the roads all think better of it and only Broadway goes on, up to the edge I’ve heard newsboys shout about, bears and falling boulders, some lunatic wants to make it a park.

It was thick August, the Parkers took to the sea, Rosetta was limp with fever and you took your time with our costumes, Mr. Parker’s hunting jacket, his spatterdashes hiding your bare shins. For me a lady’s shawl, left by some guest the winter past, too thick for the season but I won’t touch Mrs. Parker’s things, not for anything. A pair of gloves from the Irish girls, who give you anything you ask. The gloves to hide my bulging knuckles, hands no lady would ever have.

You sifted flour into your palm and with a feather from my duster brushed my face. Hold still,you said, your voice sterner than I’d heard you but I couldn’t help laughing, you looked so studied, your head tilted, a tip of tongue pulling back your lower lip, looking hard at my chin, my cheekbones, my point of pride, my thin lady nose.

I felt unseen, as when we’re at a window, when you’re looking at the river and seeing the sea.

You plucked a black berry from the boughs Rosetta keeps in a vase and crushed it, your fingertip bright with its blood. Like this, you said, kissing the air. It’s poison, I said, Rosetta says! Your finger shushed me, brushed my lips. Just don’t lick, you said. There. A lady. All day my lips dry as scones.

We walked west to where we wouldn’t be known, you hailed a coach and held my hand and I held my skirt and climbed in, just as I’ve seen them do a thousand times and more. To rattle and bounce aloft in the coach – is this what it feels like at sea? No grip on the ground, I held hard to the bench and tried to like it.

When we got there the air smelled nothing of the water, no whiff of fish or clam, no boat rope or balm and we couldn’t even see the river, I didn’t know up from down. The light spread thick as honey, soaked up by the brush and branches of the towering trees, not skittered and scattered, resisted by the river.  You spread out a borrowed quilt, one I’d bent over mending. I found a seam of my stitches and sat on it so not to see. We passed the day, me sitting prim and you like a puppy, up and down and sniffing about, laughing and jabbering and still and quiet for long moments, laying on your back and dreaming aloud of where you’ll go.

The light grew long and I didn’t know how we’d get home. You wandered off and came back with a fistful of elderberries, knelt down beside me, dead serious. You lifted my wrist with two fingers, undid the tiny buttons of my glove and pulled it off finger by finger, pinched my sleeve and pushed it up, up to my elbow, twisted my wrist to bare my forearm. Wait, you said, and pulled from your pocket a tin case blazoned with initials that couldn’t be yours, and from within it a long, curved needle, one I thought I’d lost.

Crack and break and break and heal. I wanted to smack you, whack you with my ugly knuckles.

You pulped the berries in your palm, you soaked the needle tip, you told me I’m true north for you, wherever you go you’ll return to me. You wanted to write your name there, in the plain of my arm, so I’d always know. You pricked my skin and nothing showed, you tried and tried, you said the sailors, whose tattooed bodies look blue with disease, told you this would work, and this, your first failure, is when I began the road to losing you. The Captain’s Widow is just the last stop.

What you bring her elderberries for I don’t know, but later as I’m dusting I see – their dried pulp in an oyster shell, the girl’s fine tipped paintbrush nearby, and laced on the waves of the girl’s painted sea, so small someone less studied in this painting would never see – the string of letters I know must be your name.


Even the Parkers see you’ve changed. All fall while the Widow lingers and her daughter pouts, your plot grows so clear it becomes ordinary, and before Christmas you’ve grown a beard and shed your servant’s brogue, you scold the girl behind the door with knowing, fatherly tones, you eat with them in the Widow’s room because while the Parkers won’t abide you at the guests table, neither will they deny a Captain’s Widow what she will. Only a fool mourns the living, Rosetta says over supper. Foolish Fool Mourns the Living. I pick at the bones in my stew.

Next day the new footman’s doing what just a month ago you would: packing up valises, filling up a coach. Pennsylvania, you say. The family estate. I’m stirring the fireplace coals, and you walk to the window, pull back the drape. A bright line of winter light slices the reddened daytime dark of the parlor. Pennsylvania Dutch.

You tap at the window, squint and scratch with a thumbnail at a warp in the glass, then clasp your hands behind you. I stand and wipe the coal off my hands, for one last time I slide up beside you, lean past you to look out. The winter shipyard looks like a painting, a line of steam puffing from a lone tug, the dockhands crisp little pictures of busy men, frozen in a moment’s work. The white sky, a bleak sun, Brooklyn the pale horizon and the river bleeding blue.

What time do you sail? It’s the first we’ve spoken since the kettle.

You laugh in your booming new fatherly laugh. You really know nothing. Pennsylvania? It’s west.

Near California? 

You begin that false laugh again but stop yourself, turn and look at me. For a moment I see the boy I knew, and then you let the drape fall and straighten your gentleman’s jacket, give each cuff a yank. California’s not a real place, you say, and I know as you turn away you think I believe it.    

I watch from the window as you and your Widow watch the footman work. I’m not mourning the living. You’re already dead.


Come spring the newsboys are screaming, and dumb souls by the thousands stream into the seaport, flood us with their greed and dreams.

There’s Gold in Them Thar Hills, they say.

One day I’m walking down Fulton, bustled and knocked, the fish I’ve got for Rosetta fresh dead and still rank with the sea. Some drunk pitches into me and I grip the hotel wall for purchase.

I see it then, a brick greened with brine and loose like a rotten tooth in its socket. I pry it out and there’s your store of treasures – the scrimshaw cane top, the Widow’s broach. A few pennies you stopped needing, the coral pink as a tongue. A thick kitchen bone I’ve never seen, half shaved into a flower.  I take the lot and throw all but the pennies in the river. Those I cup and shake like dice. I’ve saved my luck. I’ll shave off my braids, flatten my chest, make my way aboard like the rest. You missed your chance. I think I’ll take it.



-Noah’s Ark Artist unidentified Probably England 1790–1814 Bone and wood with iron, pigment, paper, and nails 8 1/2 x 14 x 9 1/4″ Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York Gift of Jane, Steven and Eric Lang and Jacqueline Loewe Fowler in memory of Robert Lang, 1999.14.1 Photo by John Parnell, New York

-Mourning Piece for Captain Matthew Prior and His Son Barker Prior Attributed to Jane Otis Prior (1803–?) Bath or Portland, Maine c. 1815–1822
Watercolor on silk 17 1/2 x 21 1/4 x 1 1/2″ Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York Museum purchase, 1992.25.1 Photo by John Parnell, New York

-Cane with Female Leg Handle and Cane with Female Leg and Dark Boot Handle, Artists unidentified, Probably eastern United States c. 1860. Whale ivory and whale skeletal bone with horn, ink and nail (left); whale skeletal bone, mahogany, and ivory with paint (right). 29 3/4 x 3 1/2 in. (left); 34 x 3 3/4 in. (right) American Folk Art Museum, promised gift of Ralph Esmerian, P1.2001.320, 321.

-Anniversary Tin: Man’s Top Hat and Eyeglasses, Lady’s Bonnet with Curls, Slippers, and Hoop Skirt Artist unidentified Gobles, Michigan
1880–1900 Tin Hat: 9 1/2 x 11 1/2 x 5 1/4″ Eyeglasses: 1 1/8 x 5 1/8 x 5 1/8″ Bonnet: 14 x 9 x 16″ Slippers: 6 1/2 x 9 x 8″ Hoop Skirt: 28 x 24″ diam. Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York Gift of Martin and Enid Packard, 1988.25.1, 2, 6, 9, 12, 19 Photo by John Parnell, New York

-Tattoo Pattern Book Artist unidentified New York City 1873–1910
Ink on oiled cloth, with buckram binding 4 1/2 x 3 1/4 x 3/4″ (closed) Collection American Folk Art Museum, New York Anonymous gift, 1995.29.1
Photo by Gavin Ashworth, New York


Nicki Pombier Berger is the Founding Editor of Underwater New York. She writes fiction, and works in nonfiction using oral history tools. She has worked at StoryCorps, and is Chair of the Board of Advisers for 3 Generations, a non-profit that curates stories from survivors and advocates working on human rights issues, connecting audiences to ways to action. Nicki has an MFA in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a Bachelor of Science in the Foreign Service from Georgetown University, and will complete the Oral History Masters of Arts program at Columbia University in Fall 2013. Presumably she will stop going to school at some point. She lives in Brooklyn.

Duwand Works for Good Humor, Inc. by Lashon Daley

OBJECT: Ice Cream Trucks

BODY OF WATER: The Rockaways

Duwand wasn’t the most disgruntled employee at Good Humor, Inc.  His position as a Quality Control Inspector at the conveyor belt had its benefits. He was never asked to lift anything like the stock boys who wore back braces, nor was he ever blamed for anything– his supervisor was held responsible for all of his mistakes and those of the other 19 employees just like him.

Duwand’s job description stated 2 things: 1) Verify that Good Humor, Inc. is properly spelled and punctuated on each ice cream sandwich package wrapper and 2) Notify your supervisor when it is not.

From the age of 14, Duwand worked for Good Humor, Inc. at the conveyor belt. Since 1929, when the company opened its New York distribution center, Duwand read and re-read the words Good Humor, Inc. 5,980,003 times. He could spell it backwards in 4 seconds. He created 213 words from the letters and composed several different jingles based on its spelling. My ice cream has a first name, it’s G-o-o-od…

So after forty-three years of uneventful service, it caught all of Good Humor, Inc.’s 147 New York employees by surprise when Duwand drove a fleet of Good Humor, Inc. ice cream trucks off of a pier.

He entitled his operation “They Should’ve Let Me Drive A Truck When I First Asked” and underlined it using a green plastic ruler and an black ink pen in his leather-bound pocket notebook. It took Duwand eighty-six-and-a-half days to plot his revenge. His plan was scheduled to take place on Sunday, July 13, 1975–almost fifteen years after he had received the first of many rejection letters denying him the opportunity to become a Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineer.

Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineers were the envy of most of the factory workers, especially Duwand. Since 1950, when Jack Carson starred in the featured motion picture, The Good Humor Man, Duwand felt cheated out of the role, stating in his letter to upper management: “It was unbeknownst to me that auditions for this role were happening. I would have made an excellent Good Humor Man.” Ever since then, whenever Duwand would see their freshly pressed white uniforms and police-style hats, he became even more dissatisfied with his ill-fitting factory uniform. “It’s downright unfair and foolish,” he continued in his letter. His oversized hair net and baggy white jacket made him feel so small. He had a nice frame, he thought, and it deserved to be showcased. Plus, the opportunity to drive a brand-new Ford truck (despite it solely being used to sell ice cream) was the icing on the cake. If Duwand had ever had his heart set on anything, this was it.

Duwand knew the rejection letter by heart, but read it all the same when he found it for the last time in his employee mailbox, addressed as always to his home, but never mailed there.

Dear Mr. Duwand Johnson:

As a valued employee of Good Humor, Inc., we recognize how important you are to this company.  Your dedication and hard work are what continue to make us a national success.  As a result, we regret to inform you that we cannot fulfill your employee transfer request.

We strive for continuity and consistency and as a result believe that it is better for our employees to remain in their current positions until otherwise promoted by management.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Good Humor

Duwand folded the letter and almost placed it neatly back in the embossed envelope as he had with the fourteen that came before it. Then, suddenly, he balled it up and stuffed it in the crotch of his uniform pants. He stood a little taller walking back to his work station.

By day eighty-three of Operation “They Should’ve Let Me Drive A Truck,” Duwand knew the Sunday schedule of every Good Humor, Inc. employee. Sundays were his days off and during his three months of planning, he clandestinely had sat in his hot car outside of the factory’s gate monitoring the entrance and exit times of each employee.

He had noted that there was only one manager on duty, an assistant manager at that, in comparison to the four that were on duty during the weekdays. His Sunday counterpart’s name was Sue-Yang, but everyone called her Sue. She had worked at Good Humor, Inc. for at least five years now, but they had never met. She was strictly a Sunday worker. Duwand especially noted that there were two supply truck drivers who alternated weekly. The chubby one, who Duwand nicknamed Tub, for “tub of cream,” was always late for his deliveries. He sometimes ran up to thirty-nine minutes late to distribute the ingredients Good Humor, Inc. needed to meet their ever-growing demand for ice cream in the Tri-State area. Pick, short for “toothpick,” was always late as well, but never by more than twelve minutes. So, Duwand had picked a Sunday that Tub was working, counting on the distraction he would cause as the factory workers rushed to help him unload the supplies.

The morning of his revenge operation, Duwand went to church as usual. He dressed himself in his best suit and hat and drove 2.3 miles to First Baptist Church of Mary’s Holy Name Christian Fellowship with the Sunday Gospel Radio Show turned up just a notch louder than usual. During service, he worshipped the Lord fervently, feeling giddy like a child running down a hill.  He shouted amen at just the right moments during the sermon about the Resurrection of Christ and left before the after-service prayer had begun. He had work to do.

Duwand parked in the employee parking lot, swiped his employee card to unlock the side entrance and went into autopilot. He dressed himself in the men’s locker room, where he started off every morning at the factory changing from his civilian clothes to a clean uniform picked out of the large bins labeled “pants” and “jackets.” He grabbed one of the hundreds of hair nets from a torn cardboard box to cover his balding head and then placed the required disposable shoe covers over his Sunday best. By the time he walked out of the locker room, Duwand had forgotten it was Sunday.

“What are you doing here,” he called out to Sue Yang. For forty-three years, Duwand had completed the same preliminary tasks to start his day. Seeing someone else in his chair and at his work station was unprecedented. Had he been replaced? Had management finally had enough with his transfer requests and fired him without notice? He was only a few steps away, but with the hum of the machines and the earplugs in her ear, Sue hadn’t heard him until he was standing right next to her. His mouth opened slightly, waiting for an answer. She had no idea who this man was and wasn’t going to take her eyes off the conveyor belt. She had work to do and was only interested in doing just that.

Her look of disinterest set off something inside Duwand. He was twice her age and deserved respect, if not for seniority, then at least for being a senior. Who does she think she is, he thought to himself. This was his workstation and she was violating it.

Duwand felt powerful screaming at the top of his lungs about how he had given up his youth and dreams to work for Good Humor, Inc. How dare they replace him? He was the best Quality Control Inspector they had and he could prove it, which he tried to do by starting to recite the 213 words he created. But he could only remember the first seven.

From the corner of his eye, Duwand could see the assistant manager leaving his office to rush downstairs to see what all of the commotion was about. Out of fear, Duwand got louder.

Unsure of how to continue his rambling, Duwand began quoting the Ten Commandments and started to use large gestures to get his non-point across. He only got to commandment number three before he was wrestled to the ground by two security guards. They dragged him kicking and screaming into the parking lot and out the gate, where the assistant manager was hoping to get an explanation out of him.

Duwand sat on one side of the chain-link fence, sore from the tackle. He could feel the muscle throbbing high on his right thigh and knew that in a few hours there would be a bruise. He took in quite a few shallow breaths before he began  apologizing for his misconduct, while the assistant manager and security guards stood on the other side of the fence. They were unsure of what to do next. Duwand looked manic to them. They knew him as a quiet fellow and figured he was just having a bad day. The factory could do that to you, they told him, trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

When Duwand finally settled down, they helped him up and took him through the back entrance to the offices where he could relax a little and get some water before he felt good enough to drive home. Plus, the assistant manager wanted to file an incident report for precaution.

The brown polyester couch looked brand-new, but smelled old to Duwand as he plopped himself down. He rested his head against the back and slouched with his legs stretched straight out. He was exhausted and disappointed in himself for ruining his own plan. But before he could wallow any more in shame, the supply truck arrived and just like he had once anticipated, the assistant manager hurried out of the office, leaving Duwand alone.

He sat for a minute before taking the clipboard off of the assistant manager’s desk. He looked at the form and what had been written. He felt compelled to write something profound to mark what he was about to do. He pulled out his leather-bound notebook from his uniform jacket pocket and read a few of his favorite movie quotes. “If you work for a living, why do you kill yourself working,” he recited from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. “Do you want to dance?  Or do you want to DANCE,” he uttered from The Thomas Crown Affair. But in the end, he found them all to be insufficient. Then he thought about some of the social justice chants he had come up with over the years like “Ice Cream, Yes!  Factories, No!” and found them to be insufficient as well. It was then that he realized he had neglected to prepare one of the most important parts of his plan: the note. Whether it was written for a ransom or suicide, or just a short letter passed between friends or lovers, the note was often used to symbolize the beginning of the end. The note was the catalyst that set flame to the conflict and here Duwand was without his match.

He put down the pen and quickly moved to the key box, removing 15 keys–one for each rejection letter he had received. He placed the keys in a small canvas bag and into his work jacket. He rushed to the door to check on how much time he had, then quickly sat back on the couch and picked up the pen.

Dear Duwand Johnson:

As a valued employee of Good Humor, Inc., we recognize how important you are to this company. Your dedication and hard work are what continue to make us a national success. As a result, we are accepting your transfer request and are making you a Good Humor, Inc. Ice Cream Transportation Engineer.

Congratulations on your promotion! Enclosed, you will find 15 truck keys for your use. Have a wonderful time driving them off the pier and be sure to notify us if you need any assistance.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. Good “Dirt Bag” Humor

Lashon received her M.F.A in Writing from Sarah Lawrence College in 2008 and plans to be an author when she grows up.  With a B.A. in English and a background in dance, she hopes to one day combine the two, somehow. Born and raised in Miami, Florida, she moved to New Orleans after graduating with her masters, hoping to get her hands dirty, to write some stories and to do some good. She now lives in California.

Unlucky Bag by Adrian Kinloch

A bag of lottery tickets submerged in Prospect Park Pond.

A bag of lottery tickets submerged in Prospect Park Pond.

Adrian Kinloch has been taking photographs since age seven, when his grandfather gave him a 1930s folding-bellows Kodak camera. He grew up in Suffolk, England, and has degrees in visual art and third-world development from Staffordshire University. Adrian currently lives and works in Brooklyn as a graphic designer and photographer. His pictures run regularly in The Brooklyn Paper and have also appeared in New York Magazine, O Magazine, and on He also maintains the photo blog Brit in Brooklyn.

Kangamouse by Matthea Harvey




This is what the Last Ones left us.

After the Era of Flood and after the Era

of Fire, we creep into the Central Clusters

and rifle through the rubble. From the top

of a cliff, two pink eyes and one pale ear beckon.

The Wordsplitter names the creature

Kangamouse, Male. It is not one of their BeWiths,

which were almost universally furred,

nor a ListenTo, since he makes no sound,

nor is there a mention of Kangamouse

in the Aesop’s Fables found in a Ziplock

in Zone Twelve some twenty years ago.

We still cannot make a Ziplock, but we know

all about Morals—try before you trust and

might makes right. We try to tease one out.

If a “mouse” can make its home in a hole, are we

to understand we will live on without the sun?

If the “kangaroo” keeps its children in a pocket,

is it wise to keep our Gimmes close too though

they wail and steal our food? Perhaps Kangamouse

has something to do with their mysterious notion of “Play”—

a type of waiting for sunset that involved throwing

spheres and grimacing. He may well be yet another

Withholder, since when we press on his button,

like all the other Gods we’ve found and abandoned,

nothing happens. Night makes light we murmur, and look

up at the sky with the face the Last Ones called Hope.

Matthea Harvey is the author of Sad Little Breathing Machine (Graywolf, 2004) and Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form (Alice James Books, 2000). Her third book of poems, Modern Life (Graywolf, 2007) was a finalist for the National Book Critics Cirlcle Award and a New York Times Notable Book. Her first children’s book, The Little General and the Giant Snowflake, illustrated by Elizabeth Zechel, is forthcoming from Tin House Books. Matthea is a contributing editor to jubilatMeatpaper and BOMB. She teaches poetry at Sarah Lawrence and lives in Brooklyn.

Beyond the Sea by Said Sayrafiezadeh

OBJECTMementos in a Bottle


My idea for getting married on a boat in the Hudson River was, in theory, a good one. It had come to me in a flash one afternoon at Shelter Island where my fiancée Karen and I had gone to scout out possible venues for our wedding. We were hoping to have a ceremony that was simple and secular, quirky but classy, something that incorporated our abiding love and affection for New York City, and also something that didn’t cost too much. Most of these requirements, however, seemed to have little chance of being satisfied by what we had seen during our six hours on Shelter Island, and it wasn’t until evening, while the two of us sat on the shore, depleted and dejected, imagining the worst possible cookie-cutter wedding, that we happened to observe a sailboat serenely floating past.

“What if we got married on a boat in the Hudson River?” I suggested.

“What a great idea!” Karen said.

And how easy it all seemed. Through Craigslist we found a beautiful wooden sailing yacht at a reasonable price, with a captain who was down-to-earth, who had done weddings before, and who, being in active service in the Merchant Marines, would be able to marry us. Karen bought a wedding dress at a sample sale on Mulberry Street that made her look a bit like a mermaid, and we chose, as one of our theme songs, Beyond the Sea by Robbie Williams. Our invitations, pink and brown, were designed by us in painstaking detail, and had an old map of New York City that I had tracked down one afternoon at the public library, and which showed the Hudson River—or the North River as it was once called—where we would be having our actual ceremony. In the middle of saying our vows, which were written by me, also in painstaking detail and plagiarized in part from E.B. White’s Here is New York, we planned to toss into the river a vintage bottle—never mind the environment—that I had purchased for five dollars at the Good Will on Twenty-third Street, and which was stuffed with Karen’s and my mementos and remembrances and wishes for our life going forward. And then we, and our twenty-five guests, would sail around New York Harbor for two hours.

I say that “in theory” getting married on a boat in the Hudson River is a good idea because it fails to assume the possible reality of that day. That day which, as everyone knows, is already filled with so many intangibles and variables and unforeseen conflicts and surprises, where stress rises and emotions are laid bare, and where my stress and emotion would not only be laid the barest because of my repressed and dysfunctional family, but documented forever by a thousand unsmiling photographs. Karen and I began to have an inkling that we had exposed ourselves to undue anxiety, when, five months before our wedding day—June 25—we began desperately trying, through almanacs and websites, to see if we could determine whether or not it would rain. Our captain tried to allay our concerns with his foolproof contingency plan that involved ponchos for everyone, but this did not set our minds at ease.

As it turned out, however, it did not rain. Instead, it was sunny and hot. The hottest day of the year, in fact. I was wearing a new suit that happened to be black and for which I had paid so much money that I refused to take off the jacket. Within ten minutes I was sweating profusely. My mother, whom I hadn’t spoken to in two years, showed up with accusatory eyes and a firm handshake. My father didn’t show up at all. He was too busy. Or too disinterested. (Which is its own story.) Furthermore, Karen and I hadn’t realized that when we set the date it coincided with Gay Pride weekend and that traffic in the city would be heavy, nor had we realized that if any of our twenty-five guests were late, even by a few minutes, they risked missing the entire ceremony since we were on a boat, and the boat was scheduled to sail promptly at one thirty. The concern I began to feel at one o’clock for stragglers became panic by one fifteen, and despair by one twenty. By one twenty-five I was defeated and exhausted and could only watch in half-hearted relief as the final guest arrived and strolled unevenly up the gangway.

We were all optimistic that the breeze off the river would cool us down, but ten minutes after we began our voyage the fan belt in the engine broke and we were stuck sitting in the busiest part of the Hudson River, bobbing up and down in the turbulent and taunting wake of the ferries and motorboats as the sun beat down. Because of this unexpected turn of events, the sails of the yacht had to be raised earlier than anticipated, and the guests were told to duck continuously, like they were in a war zone, while the boom passed back and forth over their heads trying to catch that nonexistent breeze. We had not planned for this initial part of the journey to take one hour, and the hors d’oeuvres we wanted to eat after the ceremony had to be eaten before, and the playlist we had assembled with such care and attention ran in an endless, irritating loop. In addition, the constant motion of the yacht made our wedding photographer ill, and she was observed every so often hurrying with her cameras down into the captain’s quarters. As for one of my wife’s best friends, she eschewed any form of privacy and vomited straight over the side.

Finally we arrived at the still and calming waters by the Statue of Liberty. Everyone roused themselves and took their places, and the captain made a formal declaration about being “empowered by the laws of the United States of America to perform this service.” And then he read our vows that I had spent a lot of time writing and that described how lucky Karen and I were to have found one another, and how no one should come to New York City unless they are willing to be lucky. I also had included a rather pedantic survey of the various names that the Hudson River had been called dating back to the Mohawk. Midway through the ceremony, as directed, the captain handed over that vintage bottle we had stuffed full with our mementos, none of which I can recall now except for my therapist’s business card. “This river contains the history of this, the greatest of all cities,” the captain recited in my overblown prose, “and now it will also contain the love of these two people before us.” Then I corked the bottle and handed it over to Karen who stood at the helm of the ship. She hurled it as far as she could, which wasn’t very far, and we watched it bob around anti-climatically for a few moments before going back to finish our vows and exchange our rings. When we were all done we kissed, were kissed by others—my mother shook my hand—and then everyone got down to the business of celebrating our marriage and sailing around the harbor in ninety degree heat.

That was five yeas ago, and Karen and I are still happily married. Every so often I will remember that bottle of ours and I will think about how it’s floating out there somewhere. At least, I hope it’s still floating. Maybe it’s only just a few feet from where Karen threw it. Or maybe it’s made it all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Perhaps one day we’ll receive a message from someone who’s found it. Or perhaps it will be discovered many years from now after we’re all gone.

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh was born in Brooklyn and raised in Pittsburgh. He is the author, most recently, of the short story collection Brief Encounters With the Enemy, and the critically acclaimed memoir When Skateboards Will Be Free, selected as one of the ten best books of the year by Dwight Garner of The New York Times. His short stories and personal essays have appeared inThe New YorkerThe Paris ReviewGrantaMcSweeney’sThe New York Times and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, among other publications. He is the recipient of a Whiting Writers’ Award and a fiction fellowship from the Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. Saïd lives in New York City with his wife, the artist and designer Karen Mainenti, and teaches creative writing at Hunter College and New York University, where he received a 2013 Outstanding Teaching Award.

Kangamouse by Chris Adrian

OBJECT:  Kangamouse

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay

Photo by Nura Qureshi

Photo by Nura Qureshi

This story was published in collaboration with Significant Objects

My brother and I could not agree on how to worship the mouse.  It was typical of us back then that we could agree that it should be worshipped—that was obvious from the day it arrived in the mail, a gift from our father, who had been in Vietnam for three years, which was one-third of George’s life and one-half of mine, on business more important than his wife and his sons. The last gift had been a green and yellow straw mat, and we agreed that it was, in fact, a prayer-mat, the use of which only became clear with the advent of the mouse. The evening it arrived we knelt in our room in our pajamas in the dark. George had his flashlight out and he shined it on the mouse’s face.

“Great Faaa,” he said. “Mighty Faaa, hear our prayers.” He said the name in a sing-song, high-pitched voice. We had just seen “Day of the Dolphin” the week before. I put my hand on the flashlight and pushed it down, so the little monkey in the mouse’s heart was more plainly illuminated.

“Mr. Peepers,” I said. “Source of the All, forgive our sins! Don’t punish us!”

“What are you doing?” George asked, and our argument began.  We quarreled subtly, at first—we still shared the mouse, but prayed differently to it—and then more obviously, stealing Him back and forth, and performing secret worship in the closet or the basement or the pool shed.  The violence, when it came, attracted our mother’s attention. “If you can’t share that hideous piece of trash, I’m going to throw it away,” she said, and that night we prayed peacefully, imploring Faaa and Mr. Peepers not to hurt her, but by the morning we were fighting again. “Faaa!” George said to me, sitting on my chest and pummeling my head with the sides of his fists, and I could almost understand how his whole argument could be contained in just the name. I wanted to tell him that there was a monkey in my heart, and a monkey in his heart, and a monkey in everybody’s heart, and there was nothing worse in the world than an unappeased, unworshipped monkey who lived in you and was mad at you. But all I could say was, “Mr. Peepers!”

“Why can’t you two just be good?” our mother asked, and she took up Peepers-Faaa in her hand and threw Him against the wall, breaking off His ear. I cried, but George screamed at her, telling something horrible was going to happen to us because of what she had done, and horrible things did happen to us. She took up the body and flushed it down the toilet, and George said later that it was a miracle of Faaa that it flushed, but that it made sense that He would exercise His magic to get away from our mother, and from me.

I still have the ear.


Chris Adrian is the author of two novels, “Gob’s Grief” and “The Children’s Hospital,” and a collection of short stories, “A Better Angel.”

Mysterious Goo, Immune to Diseases by Ben Greenman

OBJECTMysterious White Goo

BODY OF WATER: Gowanus Canal

“Except for waist-bands, forehead-bands, necklets, and armlets, and a conventional pubic tassel, shell, or, in the case of the women, a small apron, the Central Australian native is naked. The pubic tassel is a diminutive structure, about the size of a five-shilling piece, made of a few short strands of fur-strings flattened out into a fan-shape and attached to the pubic hair. As the string, especially at corrobboree times, is covered with white kaolin or gypsum, it serves as a decoration rather than a covering. Among the Arunta and Luritcha the women usually wear nothing, but further north, a small apron is made and worn.”

— W. Baldwin Spencer and Francis James Gillen, “The Native Tribes of Central Australia,” 1899

This description never fails to fill me with a mixture of longing (for the frank and carnal descriptions of the indigenous peoples) and boredom (I cannot abide the implication that it took two men to write that paragraph). But I do not want to remain focused too narrowly on those Central Australian women and the fur-strings that are fanned and attached to their pubic hair. Instead, I would like to turn to Spencer and Gillen, the two men responsible for this bit of informative, if somewhat wooden, prose.

As any student of Australian anthropology knows, Spencer was a principal of the Horn Expedition in 1894.  The expedition, the first to make a comprehensive attempt to understand Australia’s interior, left by train from Adelaide, proceeded to the railhead at Oodnadatta, and then left the tracks for camelback. The brave men of the Horn Expedition, Spencer among them, spent time in the Finke River basin, the Macdonnell Ranges, and Alice Springs. “It is beastly cold and beastly hot,” he wrote home to his elder brother, “sometimes simultaneously. In last evening [sic], I witnessed a buzzing bug the size of a dingo land upon the back of a wallaroo and drain the poor thing of its very vitality.” Spencer was prone to exaggeration.

Gillen was not. He was the more cautious of the pair, submissive and romantic. Though he was Spencer’s senior by five years, he was merely an assistant on the 1894 expedition. Following that journey, the two men struck up a friendship that blossomed into a professional relationship, and they soon collaborated on “The Native Tribes of Central Australia,” which was published in 1899, and from which the description above is drawn. I have been told by anthropologists that “The Native Tribes of Central Australia,” which runs to more than six hundred pages, contains valuable insights into initiation rituals, sun and moon myths, and the Witchcetty Grub Totem. I must believe them, as I have no desire to investigate for myself.

My interest in Gillen and Spencer stems not from their scholarship, but from the fact that they produced in me the greatest pleasure known to man. This requires some explanation. In 1990, I was disowned by my family, which was an Austrian industrial dynasty responsible for designing and then improving the kind of light aluminum railing that can be seen around the edge of suburban pools and other small bodies of water. “This is a terrible thing to be rich for,” I used to say to my father, and though he scowled at me, this was not why I was disowned. Neither was it the result of my scorn for his railing-gotten millions, or my insistence on using some of those millions to train myself as a bespoke boot maker. “I can buy you all the world,” he said, “and yet you waste your time making them,” to which I responded, without any intention of cleverness, “I do not need all the boots in the world, and I prefer to think of it as spending my time rather than wasting it.” The cause, rather, was Pamela, my first wife, who had a face as smooth as a water-worn stone and a mind as dirty as the bed of the river beneath it. The first time we met, we were at a formal dinner that was being hosted by my family and paid for out of my father’s trench-deep pockets. I introduced myself, and she scowled slightly. Later, she would tell me that she had an inborn suspicion of money and that which it had poisoned. But she was kind enough to speak to me, and moreover, to ask me questions. When she learned that I was a reluctant heir, and that I considered boot-making not only my trade but my fundamental identity, her eyes went soft and watery. “That’s not the only thing that went soft and watery,” she said: a mind as dirty as a riverbed. That was enough to spark the flame of love, but what kept it burning was her elaboration. She was an anatomist, a biologist, but also a sensualist, her great-grandfather’s great-granddaughter in many essential ways. “The female of the species, when aroused,” she said, “is liquefied by science.”

I repeated this insight to my father, who asked me where I had heard it, and then, upon learning its source, cautioned me against indulging the weakness brought on by the female of the species. “You are not exactly resistant to the manipulations of others,” he said.

“Except for yours,” I said.

“Just do not marry this woman,” he said, “or else it will be your final act as a member of this family.”

I committed this final act, of course. For anyone who thinks I was acting foolishly, I can only remember Pamela and what she looked like then. It is a form of explanation, which is not to say rationalization. When my father disowned me, he made the only joke I ever knew him to make. “You’d think you would like getting the boot,” he said.

As a wedding gift, I made Pamela the most wonderful pair of black leather cowboy boots. When I presented them to her, my head was still ringing from the dressing-down I had received from my father, and so I did not notice that she began undressing immediately. She took off everything and put on the boots. I let her break them in on our honeymoon night. We scuffed the tips repeatedly.

The next morning, she told me that she had a present for me. I closed my eyes. She leaned her bare breasts into my hand and then laughed. “That’s not it,” she said. “But open your eyes.” I did. Her great-grandfather’s book was on the table, open to the paragraph I have reprinted above. I read it.

“Do you want one?” she said.

“One what?”

“A tassel,” she said. I did not respond. “I mean a tassel on me that you can remove and then tie around your finger while you have your way with me.” I nodded. “Come,” she said. “Let’s walk.”

I followed Pamela out of the house. The boot heels clacked on the pavement. She kept a few paces ahead of me and sped up whenever I did. I could not catch her. As we went, she told me a story. While her great-grandfather was exploring in Central Australia, he filched one of the pubic fans from a woman to whom he had an immediate and powerful attraction. “Science was not impersonal for him,” she said. Later, when he married and became a father, he showed the tassel to his wife, but did not allow her to wear it. “Marriage had meaning for him, but it did not have ultimate meeting,” she said. When Gillen’s children were old enough to look for mates of their own, he presented them with a series of what he called “inspirations and injunctions,” the central message of which was that they should look for a partner with whom they felt a “powerful and uncontrollable mix of respect and attraction.” When they located that prospective partner, Gillen said, they should present him or her with the tassel (which would be passed from eldest child to eldest child) or the equivalent (this, Gillen said, could be anything that a younger child believed had the same symbolic and talismanic value as the tassel). Pamela’s grandfather, an Australian physician, was the first recipient. Her mother, who came to New York City as a fashion model and then, later, a furniture designer, was the second. Pamela herself was the third. When Pamela was thirteen, her mother gave her a box fashioned from desert rosewood; inside was the tassel. “Show it not to your first lover, but to your true love,” she said. When Pamela was twenty years old, she met a man, found herself attracted, traveled with him, even shared an apartment with him briefly, but did not show him the tassel. A few years later, she met another man, felt a significant attraction, felt respect, but did not feel compelled to show the tassel. Some years after that, she fell completely in love. She did not give me the man’s
name, and so I will have to invent one. I will call him Bill. When Pamela met Bill, she knew at once that they would be together forever.

“I felt everything,” she said, “from the cleanest and most crystalline intellectual affinity to the most transporting frightening physical throb.” One night, she disrobed before him and revealed the tassel, which she had attached to her hair in precisely the manner described in her great-grandfather’s book. She passed a blissful month with Bill, but at the conclusion of that time, he told her that he had met someone else. She despaired. She considered ending her life. Instead, she committed a kind of symbolic suicide, casting the pubic tassel into the river. That was eighteen months before she met me. Now that the two of us were together, she wanted to retrieve the tassel and try again. “Just because I have not yet lived up to my great-grandfather’s ideals does not mean that I should stop trying,” she said. Then she said, “Here is the spot.” We were on a bridge that spanned the Gowanus Canal. She went to a nearby tree and broke off a branch, scratching her hand in the process. “A small amount of pain is a small price to pay for what we are about to see,” she said. Then she walked down
to the water’s edge and stepped over a short aluminum railing, pointing at it and laughing as she went (her message, I assume, was that it was manufactured by my father’s company, and I admit that it could have been, though I did not check). She knelt down and sunk the branch into the canal to its hilt. Her hand almost touched the surface. She wiggled it around against the edge of the wall and then withdrew it with a happy cry. On the end hung the tassel. “Come here,” she said. I went down to the edge to meet her. She dried the tassel on the hem of her dress. On the way home, she stayed a few steps of me again; the boots went quickly on the sidewalk. When we were inside the apartment, she lifted her dress entirely, revealing that it was the only garment she was wearing. Again, a mind as dirty as a riverbed. She quickly fastened the tassel to herself. “Come here,” she said. I did. “Hold it in your hand,” she said. I did. The tassel oozed through my fingers. She frowned and quickly untied it from herself. “Look,” she said. I did. The white material, the kaolin covering that had been immersed in canal water, had come into contact with the scratch she had received from the branch, and it was having an immediate and visible effect, shrinking the scratch away to nearly nothing. She quickly saved the rest of the kaolin, which was softened nearly to a lotion, in a bag, which she put inside a jar. The effect of the canal water was not uniform: while it had jellied the kaolin, it had brittled the strings, which snapped in half. Pamela threw away the rest of the tassel. That evening, we repeated our performance of the previous night. When we were finished with our carnal exertions, she got up out of bed—again, wearing only her new black leather boots—and went to get the jar containing the kaolin. She set it on her bedside table and scrutinized it. Now it was no longer a jelly, but something even less solid. She inspected the contents with a magnifying glass. She held it up to the light. She dipped the end of a cotton swab into the jar. When she applied the tip of the swab to a blemish on the back of her hand, the mark vanished immediately. “Somehow, this substance has acquired healing powers,” she said. I did not understand how this was possible, and said so. “You know how it goes,” she said. “Liquefied by science.”

I did not understand, but I was not such a strong man that I was able to insist upon scientific transparency after being fobbed off by a glib remark from a beautiful woman wearing only boots. The marriage did not last long. When we dissolved our union, she wept and raged and told me that she was going to go down to the canal and pour out the contents of the jar. That time, she went out the door not in her black leather boots, but in a far more modest pair of flats. She did not return for the boots. She did not return at all. I reconciled with my father and was presented with a sports car that he told me was worth half a million dollars. I drove it like it was worth far less. I drove it thinking only of Pamela. I drove it with a mixture of longing and boredom. A few months after that, I received a letter from Pamela in which she told me that she thought of me often, but never thought of me directly. “When I went to the canal that day,” she wrote, “and crossed over the railing, I thought of it as you, in a fashion, and I could nearly not bear it. I poured out the jellied kaolin and was surprised to see how fast it broke the surface and made for the bed of the canal. It is there now, sitting at the bottom, healing whatever it touches.  It could have been yours.” A few days after that, she sent a second letter, her last, asking me to send her the boots.

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction, including SuperbadA Circle Is a Balloon and Compass Both, and the recent novel The Slippage. He lives in Brooklyn.