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.

What is Left by Jen Fitzgerald

OBJECT: Pants, Crabs

BODY OF WATER: Cedar Grove Beach

When you dumped your engine
to be gnawed at by the ocean,
what better place than near
the pillars that held the floors
that held the beds of the dying
children?  Their foundations
pulled back to the center
of the earth with that ebbing
and flowing, that cistern
of empty vessels and decay.

Everything here holds something,
in one way or another.  Empty
space between them and nothing
like the empty space between
what we say and what we mean.
We all spiral inwards.

You speak in quatrains,
every third sentence a lie,
every forth sentence strewn,
lying limp, like abandoned jeans
that faintly hold the form of
their deserters.

One hundred yards away
umbrellas defy the sun
and bodies sway with
the water, resisting
the shoves of waves.

A postcard unchanged
for decades, their smiles
burnt to paper like skin
burnt from sun. In this
memory, a waft of sun
block fills their nostrils.

They won’t look to their left;
won’t see us and our abandoned
stack of rocks. They decided
to forget that years ago.

But we will hold it up,
you and I; rebuild
with crab shells
and beer cans. A castle
of broken and strewn.
Press your body
on this side and wait
until someone notices.

Jen Fitzgerald will begin working toward her MFA at Lesley University in 2012.  She is a freelance writer living on Staten Island.  This is her first publication.