I’m paddling against the churning tide
on the East River, a gull’s glide from Brooklyn Bridge.
The ferry captain waits for me,
half in disbelief, half in pity, to quit or pass his dock.
He shakes his head about me, the idiot in the kayak,
dodging all that New Yorkers discard,
riding four-foot wakes and garbage,
straining against the inevitable.
The wakes rebound off the concrete
shoreline and match the new ones from the parade of boats.
Why? He seems to mouth to me. Why?
I wish I could tell him.
I wish I could say I’m
Trying something hard.
Trying to find this place.
Trying to find me in this place.
Trying to find me and the challenges.
I am this tide, the wakes and garbage,
that here is me—overwhelming and partly broken—
hardened shorelines and questionable water,
that coming to know
this place is coming to know me,
and from that, him,
overwhelming and broken too.
It’s all river, and it’s all the least terns
I’ve seen diving for silversides
between fast food bags and rotting styrofoam.
It’s the lone cormorant plunging underwater
near the tugboat pushing the barren barge upstream.
It’s the tulle white water
on the tops of wakes the jet skiers leave.
It’s the Statue of Liberty off in the west
surrounded by anchored freighters and freight-stacked barges.
It’s that we do something to re-see all this overwhelming and broken
in its fractured beauty—
just like me. Just like him.
Just like here.
I look at him and give a quick bow of my head in gratitude.
He nods with a wry smile.
The next stroke strikes well, even too the ones after.