At the River’s Edge: An Introduction to the Water Issue

by | Nov 10, 2015 | Creative Nonfiction, Editorials / Op-eds

New York, N.Y. — Water oversees all things. Metropolises rise along shorelines, lakeside, or in total isolation, with sandy beaches lapped at by waves carrying the daring hopes and dreams of millions out to such great depths. Hurricanes make landfall and wind ushers rain and high water, wreaking destruction and rejoining families. We are bound to water. But it is not bound to us.

Hurricane Sandy bore up the Eastern seaboard when I was twenty-two. I’d re-returned to New York and lived in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and worked at the Associated Press offices in Manhattan. When Sandy hit, I stood near the Manhattan Bridge and filed a report. Later, as I made my way home through torrential winds, falling trees and the occasional eyelid awning skittering down abandoned drives, I figured the storm wasn’t all that bad. There hardly seemed flooding. Except for the howl of wind winnowing through Downtown Brooklyn’s high-rises, everything was peaceful. Nobody seemed distressed.

Against my mother’s wishes to fill the bathtub with water, stock-up on non-perishables, keep cash on-hand, my roommates and I hadn’t prepared. What we bought were a few bags of New York Deli potato chips, a candle, and two bottles of Evan Williams. Aside from each other, that was all we needed.

In the morning, I read the papers—the death count and all about the destruction. I couldn’t get through to my mother, but later I learned she’d been alright and with electricity, cradled up with her cat.

When I think of water, I think of Sandy, the Jersey and Staten Island shorelines that will never be the same. I think of the families displaced, the loved ones lost, the homes erected then destroyed. The looters and contractors. The emergency workers and misplaced Federal aid.

But I also think of the night that many of us were forced into intimate spaces, watching the windowpanes battered with rain, the flooding outside into sewage grates and how the current, as always, seemed to run in the direction of life—winding tributaries formed around stalwarts to which we cling along the way.

For my mother, a cat. For me, my roommates.

There is much to say about the fluidity and changing courses of our lives. Personifying it through a major source of our existence is easy to avoid and bemoan when we remain so close to it. We embody water. But as we know, it’s essential to our survival in more ways than one; there are numerous points from which we can view and appreciate it.

As didactic parables abide, this, dear Atticus readers, is At The Water’s Edge, the water issue. May it unravel for you what it has for me—a dispassionate association with water, a shapeless pleasure so often neglected.


“Remembering the Memory of You (Lessons in Deep Sea Diving)” by Josh Sczykutowicz: “There is nothing to point at to show what is missing, but making ruby and raw steak scabs line my arms and chest like worn trees cut by wind and flying debris is the closest thing to physical proof of damage and loss that I can offer.”

“The Flawed Little Gods” by Sidney Kidd: “Each of us desperately clings to the flotsam and jetsam of our ship wrecks; even as we hear those promising whispers to uncoil our blue fingers, let go, breathe the cold water; come, join us.”

“Ocean’s Gift” by Beth Anne Lee: “As she wound westward on Sunset, riotous with billboards as always, a hive of young energy and paean to the ephemeral, she occasionally glanced up at the homes built on the hills, all clinging manfully to the bedrock on their long-fingered caissons.”

“Last Night at the Dead Goat” by Mark Crimmins: “For the first time in ten years you’re in Salt Lake City. Checked into the Hilton Centre, though you can’t think of yourself as a tourist. Twelve years of your life you spent here. A sixth of the Biblical quota.”

“Memories of Minnows” by Elizabeth Jaeger: “I was young, maybe seven or eight, when I learned how to kick minnows out of the bay. The previous summer my parents had rented a house out in Mattituck, New York.”

“An Image in Lines” by Liz Greenhill: “My own thoughts rising like mist, forming clouds, tumbling over the arc of the sea.”


Photo by Harold Navarro

About The Author

Kenneth R. Rosen

Kenneth R. Rosen works and writes for The New York Times. He is the Special Editions Editor at the Atticus Review.