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.

These Three Deer by Devin Kelly


BODY OF WATER: Lower New York Bay

To say they swam is image enough. And it was

not still summer, the water cold and chopped

by some knife of wind. Their heads only

above water. And I no longer know what is

moving under the surface. But to say they swam

is image enough. Most things that have left me

in this life have not done so wrapped in twine.

Though maybe I have done the pushing gone

and the throwing away, and each morning

I still have hands to toss the sheets to side

and place my feet on ground. We are all

in this hurting thing. How it moves

like river water, all around, and how it settles

like the circle tides of bays. Two of those three

died that day, in that moment after journeying,

just after bleeding on the riprap and touched

by human hands. Is to say they swam

image enough? Their eyes wide and too white

like a stranger drunk who tells you he loves you

for the very first time. I do not know

how or why or who am I to play some part

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

I ran away from home so often my father

kept a banana packed and ready for my leaving.

And these three deer, and just one left

after such display of sorrow, weaving through

what trees still stand in this city, how it

must wonder what home exists for all its

swimming, as it dances through a city yard.


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