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.

Mermaid Figurine by Tom McCarthy

OBJECTMermaid Figurine

BODY OF WATER: Dead Horse Bay

Photo by Nura Qureshi

Photo by Nura Qureshi

This story is published in collaboration with Significant Objects

1. Pollution of coastal waters can have / the black sun of melancholy / signature of all things I am here to / test for indicator organisms such as / Love or Phoebus, Lusignan or Biron / based on weekly or fortnightly water sampling

2. The beach zone is modeled as / the grotto where the siren / (see Fig. 1) / wind-generated surface advection and / have lingered in / with parameter estimation / limit of the diaphane / with uniform pollution concentration

3. Wild sea money / dc and dt: decay and mixing / language tide and wind have silted / to a build-up of pollutants during / the night of the tombs, you who consoled me / (see Fig. 2)

4. The coastline is roughly aligned with / the sighs of the Saint and the cries of / prevailing wind positions at this / lolled on bladderwrack / in the chambers of / pollution forecasting, modeled by / the grid where vine and rose enmesh

5. Two brief field surveys, carried out to / walk upon the beach / accumulated rainfall and runoff pollution which / snotgreen, bluesilver, rust / where U is wind and T is days / have modulated on the lyre of / drainage flow-rates for / the mermaids singing, each to / the ‘first-flush effect’, as visible in Fig. 3 / forehead is still red from the Queen’s kiss


Tom McCarthy‘s first novel, Remainder, won the Believer Book Award in 2008. His avant-garde art “organisation” the International Necronautical Society (which may or may not actually exist) surfaces through publications, proclamations and denunciations, live events and conventional art exhibitions at institutions. McCarthy is also author of the non-fiction book Tintin and the Secret of Literature. His new novel C was published by Knopf in 2010.