following the waves of coney island

You fill your bag with clementines, chocolate and an empty bag for the shells you hope to catch. You sit beside a writer who unravels her days as though they are novels. You scrub out all the wax unintentionally collected in both ears so as not to miss a word. You hit traffic lights and listen to the sound of impatient cars outside each window. When you travel down the alphabet of street names, you finally reach ocean.

In New York, it is so easy to see bricks and concrete and potholes and urine stains but a handful of miles away, there is blue and there is salt water and there are sea gulls and there is a boardwalk.

You digest the ocean. Man jogs by, moaning and gasping as he passes by. You giggle because you don’t run, so the only time you make those sounds are during sex. A spandex’d man on his bike stops to remind you how Coney Island used to look. The dilapidated wood used to be sturdy and handsome. Storms have rummaged Coney Island’s insides and outsides. You can feel the sadness of his reminisce.

You get high. Walk over to the sand and sit beside the shells and crushed crab bodies. You share chocolate and stories. You ignore pangs of anger that you do not come here more often. You are here now. You are here now.

At some point, you eat a corn dog and french fries. You ignore the thick whispers of winter edging its voice onto your earlobe. You still have some time and the air is warm enough to remain outside.

Until the sun goes down.

As the hours drip past, you head back toward parked cars and sleeping rollercoasters. You thank Coney Island for still being alive after all these years. For always remaining open, even when closed.

another way to describe it

We are made from salt and this ocean that shakes the warmth from my toes is waved and briny. There is so much to stare at when the Atlantic is just steps away and yet what I find myself noticing are the bodies. They are tanned and leathery and flat and fat and thick. They are bikini’d and shirtless and covered and sandy. I cannot help but stare at a woman with an extremely small waist and wide hips jutting out of her body like two fleshy waterfalls. Her bathing suit is small and everything is left out to be noticed…so I notice.

I recognize that I am covered. Jean shorts with sand already wedged in each pocket and my black sports bra is beneath thin black tank top and part of me wants to take my shirt off and be completely bare like the tanned male lifeguard and part of me wants a body so blurry, no one could ever tell what I should be wearing.

Old women in sun hats and cellulite are so beautiful in their aged skin because they do not need to flaunt evidence of a gym membership. They are loose and lusty.

Man in tiny bathing suit, which barely covers what is required to be covered, walks around with cigarette weaved between two fingers. I watch his cheeks collapse with each heavy inhale. He is hairy everywhere but on his head.

When I am in the water, I lift my arms and like the sodium-drenched air sticking to my underarm hair. I feel the crushed shells beneath my cracked heels. Seaweed fondles my calves. I jump waves and make eye contact with the sun as it attempts to burn more freckles into my skin.

This island gets crowded as the afternoon settles in. I sit on a borrowed blanket with my dad and nephew as we eat homemade lunch. Bites are occasionally interrupted by shards of sand and I like the way this beach tastes.

At some point, I remove my shirt. I am not bikini’d; I do not own a bathing suit. My sports bra flattens what I do not want to call attention to. I am neither fit nor fat; my body just exists as a canvas of scars and tattoos, which is its own language of poetics.

Here, we can lay out or jump waves and be free without fear of excess or imperfections. On this island, we are New York City because we are the spectrum of so many. Even if I do not see another body that looks like mine, am here and am representing this form.

Maybe someone else is noticing my differences, which allows them to celebrate their own.

how to be sturdy

A lot can be written about a bag of rocks and shells.


The shells arrived from Coney Island, stuffed into brown paper sack, all crumbly like an instrument of papercuts. The day these shells arrived in this bag, I was with my father. Earlier in the day, we drove from Crown Heights to Bensonhurst, where he lived many years ago. We even rang the doorbell to see if we could see inside. An old woman in curlers and question marks opened the door. She spoke only Italian. We smiled and continued walking. My dad and I shared a pastry at a local bakery; he got a grape juice and I got a cup of coffee. Then we headed to Coney Island where he hoped I might find strength within the sound of salt liquefying into oceanic waves.


On this day, I felt like a collapsible ladder: screws removed, flimsy and hunched. Another break-up…and I won’t reference a heart broken, because the muscle inside me kept beating. Instead, I will speak on the hazel in my eyes, feeling burnt and long-winded. My blinks were wheezing and weary. My hips were bloodied and my appetite had been carved out, replaced by nothingness.


As we entered the beach, I took off my shoes and socks and reveled at the feeling of scratchy sand between my toes. My dad took his shoes off, but remained in his black socks with gold toes. This made me smile. He treated the beach like a giant, bendable magical carpet.


I picked up shells that felt whole to me. They needed to be unabridged and intact. I could not bear to see any cracks; I was cracked enough. I held each chosen one to my nose and inhaled the stench of seaweed and the Atlantic. Then, I put them into the brown bag, along with some sand and sea glass.


Two months later, I grab many of these shells and some rocks purchased at a garden store on Washington Avenue in Brooklyn. They were of various colors and curvature; all were extremely smooth and treated. I mixed them all together in a see-through zip lock bag and brought them to school with me. Today, my students were taking a test that they had worked all semester preparing for. I wanted to give them something sturdy. Strong. I wanted them to rock this test.


Each student chose their rock or shell and I tried to explain to them that these came from the earth, like them. And their resilience is a sign that even through the toughest of times, these natural elements remained. Sometimes (oftentimes) their shape changed, but so did these students. Their minds and thoughts and perspectives like rocks and shells, altering texture and configuration.


Many times in my life, I have been given rocks that have saved me like hardened life rafts. I keep them on my alter or in my pocket or by my desk where I mix up poems like linguistic tinctures.


One student rubbed his chosen rock between his palms and said: this rock will get me through this. I wanted to tell him how right he was. I also wanted to let him know that he is the rock. I guess I am too.


all this can be used for something else

Walk the beach long enough and you will find a shell with a peep hole and when you bring it to your hazel or blue or grey or spotted-owl-brown, you will see beyond ocean and fog. You will add this shell to the others, collected on a Monday when trauma trips you almost off this earth and a human arrives with an overripe banana and a bottle of water and a car, wheezing from lack of gasoline. There is no driftwood on this beach, but your eyes find bits of animal and ghosts of storm from months before. Your feet are nude and ankles too as questions arrive like how can love carve so many scars on our bodies and how can we breathe when loss is like a subway collapsing on lungs and all this is part of life but what parts of life are meant to make you want to remain. A big enough shell can be used as a soap dish or to hold quarters for laundry or as a ladle for thick soup or rice. That curved branch left all alone over there can be used to hold things like toilet paper or discarded love notes. The water is too cold but so is life, so you jump in with clothes on because the shyness on your skin is too scratched up to be seen. All this can be used for something else. You are offered a souvenir of black-and-white magnet of this day and it sticks to your refrigerator of the time you almost drowned. You think of the ocean as your body: salt, loss, death, wave, deepness, peed in, grainy and dangerous. You want to crawl toward its bottom to find a way out. On the way out, you notice the seagulls and fall in love with their aggression; you are jealous of their flight. Home is many avenues and city blocks away but you’ve got all these shells to crush into your skin like armor. Sometimes life is about one day and how to get into it and how to move through it.

shell shocked

Inside the ocean,within its constant movements, there is magic. Toes dig into crushed shells, algae and seaweed and perhaps the occasional fish, rocks and human waste: band-aids, cigarette carcasses, wrappers, plastic

I have aged out of Sunday newspaper comic strips and Saturday morning cartoons. I don’t even own a television anymore.

I have moved beyond dolls and playgrounds, though without a child I’m not even permitted to play on swingsets alone (due to pedophiles).

I have removed all my piercings, remain addicted only to coffee now, and no longer feel enticed to engage in evenings of debauchery (minus special occasions).


though decades gather, I still get lost on beaches, searching for shells, rocks and (if I’m really lucky) sea glass.

In purple bikini top and borrowed swim trunks, I kept adding to my hearty handful of varying-sized shells. Many were cracked, some disintegrated into my clumsy fingers, while others were remnants of something much larger once. I may have found three to four complete ones, though the smaller bits are just as illuminating and miraculous.

What is it about these shells that captivate me far more than jewelry, shoes, or baubles of any sort. They are homes. Homes to animals and housed by the ocean.

Am I a home? Home to my bones and housed by this earth?

Essentially, we humans are shells: variously hued, shaped in rippled skin that shakes and alters. We never stay still in these shapes. We’ve sharp angles and some of us are bigger than others, while some of us are/feel crushed…a former version of what we once were.

We can be found, if looked for.
Regardless, we exist.

And on this beach where shells, sand and ocean can be found, there are families. I take note of the French Canadians walking past, the lesbian couple visiting from upstate New York with matching haircuts, cargo pants, and t-shirts advertising what town we are in.

A man from Ottawa says, “I think I may take my shirt off and show off my frame.”

I paint a thick coating of sunscreen all over my skin, while I watch ladies pass me by wearing over-cooked flesh, freckled and burnt. I worry about their health; I worry about their worry.

For four days, I leave Brooklyn behind and wonder what waits for me. As I age, I ask myself what matters, what is needed, and what/who I want to grow old with. My staples in life have dwindled down to: coffee, books, notebook, extra fine black ink pilot pens, and places to walk which excite poems out of me. I’ve entertained thoughts of joining a commune (still researching these options) or filling up my favorite blue/green backpack with enough essentials and hiking my way toward a new land.

What/who is worth remaining for?

The shells I plucked from the ocean and sand wait for me to admire them once again in old jelly jar. I’m not quite ready to untwist that jar and let their scent out.

Perhaps I need to untwist myself first, allow for some real time, so the magic stuffed deep, deep inside can travel its way out of me.