No matter what, avoid contact. Get in and out of the boat with a ginger crouch and gentle uncoiling. Let your paddles break the surface in a splashless arabesque. Glide silent and wakeless like a ghost ship.
Do this and your efforts will be rewarded as glassy bifolds of landscape open before you like a hymnal. Listen for the mermaids singing. And others. Your ghostly presence may rouse local spirits because, more than anything, revenants love company.
Today is my birthday and I’m surrounding myself with things older and more decrepit than I. A poisoned waterway lapping equally luxury and decay. Black mayonnaise (not far enough) below. And in the air above, a miasma of abandonment, the sour whiff of industry forgotten and lost. So, I wasn’t expecting the beauty.
A liminal lullaby: floating on the water, in the water, soon you are of the water. This is an in-between place, like dreaming or prayer or hysteria. Here, things will look and feel different for the duration. Keep paddling, and no matter what, avoid contact.
Passing warily under the Hamilton Ave bridge, I peer into its dark corners, paddle raised, samurai style. No troll down here, just the thirty-four year old echo of a taxi skidding off a half raised bridge. The water is cold and the driver struggles at first. High school star turned pro b-baller turned radio personality turned midnight driver. What goes up.
The tide is turning, back to the bay. Its gentle pull is like my grandmother’s hand on my elbow, ambiguous as to who is guiding who. The joys and sadnesses of my grandmother’s life are as inscrutable to me as the spray of hieroglyphics on these buildings. My mother is no less opaque. So how is this supposed to go, whose elbow will one day feel my grasp.
The beauty of an out-and-back is being treated to the same sights from a fresh perspective. The monster in the scrap metal yard has come alive, clawing up steel from one mountain and depositing it with a clatter on another. A man crossing the 9th St bridge waves to me, beaming with delight at the sight of a fool on the Gowanus in a life vest. As if drowning’s the danger here.
For all he knows I am a ghost, silent and wakeless. Not today, not yet. Keep paddling, and no matter what, avoid contact. Gently uncoil and crouch down in this moment. Hold yourself in a perfect arabesque, pointing forward and backward at once.