in the long shadow afternoon, the sun silver plates the red beams of the parachute drop where it stands into the sky, an empty unapplied framework. Silk parachutes were once affixed to its intricate circles, and people dropped from them at the World’s Fair held in Queens then later here, after it was disassembled and moved. Imagine them, silhouetted jellyfish floating down silently in staggered sixes. In real life, there must have been screaming. Now, it is too close to the a fence to allow for jumping.
the boardwalk boards stretch out like rough skinned lizards absorbing the heat under the wind. The pale newer planks sport American flag stamps like rub on tattoos. On the left, the ocean heaves forward and curls back in on herself endlessly. On the right, the wind blows through the Astroland space needle at half mast, the wooden Cyclone rollercoaster, the still Wonder Wheel. Wailing as it does where it finds emptiness.
the pier is a cross, and I walk its entire perimeter. On the far end, the fishermen sit with their poles, unwrapping sandwiches from Cyrillic newspapers. There is one woman fishing today. My age, I think; Philippina, I think. The ocean is louder here, the wind unimpeded; we’re all extended out into the middle of everything. Two elder Hasidic men walk in symmetrical steps in identical long trenches and beards. Their shiny black shoes. Their black cookie cutter hats. The third in their party, a grandmotherly woman, huddles into her big black coat, her teeny black hat miraculously perched in her cumulous hair. We all breathe in and out with the ocean.
at the crook of the cross, an old Asian woman in baggy khakis and thick soled sneakers faces out to the blaring runner of light along the water to our setting white star. She drops over, touching her toes. Toe touch toe touch toe touch. Then her arms reach out wide wide. Then she uses them to carve great spheres out of the air in font of her heart center. She turns the air like spinning cotton candy. She draws it all to her chest, palms together, bows again, humbling down. Coming up, her palms grip the wooden railing, and she rises up like a seal, pumping her old woman body into the sunlight. Over & up, over & up—glory glory hallelujah.
a white man in a purple wind breaker on his bike with his brown buddy on foot linger near the beginning end of the pier. As I pass in my silence, he shouts, not uninfluenced by alcohol, Hey! Hey! Can I ask you a question? This pauses me reluctantly, ready to offer the time or directions or rage depending. I am across the width of the pier. No question is coming. Instead, he is coming, getting off his bike. I hold up my hand at arms length, palm up, what’s your question. He stupidly requests to ask one again.
you can ask it from there, but I am already picking up my pace since he clearly does not want information. Do you know who I am? he demands. You want to know who I am; you want to know me, he shouts at my back. Somewhere in there, he throws in his would be compliment: I like the way you look.
i step into my shadow walking slowly along toward Brighton Beach. Solitary runners pass me, popping their lips in rhythm or flapping them like horses. A man in light sleek black running wear reclines on one of the benches without arms, hooks his sneaks in the bar arching over its middle, sits up sits up sits up. The patrolling cops won’t bother him; he’s not sleeping.
i keep in my silence, veering around a trio of ebullient dudes who try for my attention. There’s a homeless couple, colluding and comforting each other, and a man biking, two puppies in his wicker basket, radio lashed behind them.
then there’s a girl flying into my path. I suddenly feel an obligation to tape cut out bird silhouettes to myself so she can see the glass, so she won’t fly into me and break her neck. Her turquoise skirt billows around her white thighs. Her dirty t-shirt, white with light blue and red bird shapes, is half-tucked into it, her denim jacket open to her fancy camera around her neck.
Hi! Hi! Ummm—may I take your picture?
the wind throws her curls nervously in her face; they tangle briefly in her nose ring, her glasses. She pitches forward, I’ve never been out here, my friends live in Brooklyn but I’ve never been to Coney Island and I am out here alone, and I don’t have anyone to take pictures of; I never have anyone to take pictures of. May I take your picture?
she already has my “yes” smile. She doesn’t know it, but I’d say yes to anything she asks of me. I say, Do you want me to take your picture?
oh no, oh no…I don’t like my picture taken. I know, but you look great here at Coney Island. It’s okay; you look right here too. I promise. But I do not say these things. I say, What would you like me to do? Where would you like me to stand?
she isn’t sure, spastic in her successful recruitment. I squint into the sun, consider our proximity, turn left, stand on the sunny edge of the dark shadow in front of the shooting gallery. She’ll only fire off a shot or two.
how about in front of the Shoot the Freak? That seems right…
her smile cranks up, delivering wattage. I like the way you’re thinking, she chirps. I wonder about the lighting; it’s a difficult shot—me washed out in the brightness, the freak pit in deep shadow. We’re at angles with the light coming over her left shoulder. It could be worse.
Where are you visiting from?
Those are some awful nice cowgirl boots from Toronto.
They’re from a thrift store! proudly announced, followed by five minutes on Value Village, which are called Super Savers here, she elucidates.
at the other end of her lens, I must look a part. I wear rainbow socks with my hiking boots that have carried me miles and miles just today and, over the past few years, through waterfalls and urban slums in Ghana and back alley markets with fish guts running in the gutters of Hanoi. I wear black leggings with a pattern of hearts and flowers worked up their sides that remind me of my Swedish and Dutch friends. I wear a faded denim skirt, hacked off and raw edged at the knees. It used to be floor length and fish tailed. The edge of my red slip may be showing. My sweater is from Sears from the 70s, bought at some Midwestern thrift store for less than $5. It is pine green with a subtle horizontal pattern in tiny v stitches in white and orange and yellow. The ribbed neckline is torn at the center an inch down, but that’s hidden under my scarf, pearlescent and grey, wrapped round and round with long fringes sending off wishes and blessings like prayer flags. The hippie bag slung at my shoulder is stitched together once by Laotion hands then once again by mine in careful cross stitches in yarn that turns from blue to lavender and back again. It has three pins: Food Not Bombs Brooklyn, “We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness,” and a safety pin, a tool.
pale lipped, no make up, my face wears only huge round black sunglasses, held together on one side with a toothpick broken off. My hair—the ends red, the beginnings sparrow brown and grey; not short, not long—is pinned every which way and wind teased.
so I wonder, young woman, what you saw of me and Coney Island? My heart hardened like crème brulee? What did you see here of yourself?
there is tinsel in the sand.