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There are five trash towns in greater New York, five garbage heaps of Tofeth. A foul, thick wafter of iron and cement covers primeval America, beneath which cry the ghosts of the crane, the mallard, the gray and white brants, the elk and the fallow deer. A broken obelisk at Crocodopolis has stood in one position for thousands of years, but the United States is a transient Golgotha.

In 1926, my mother had decided to join me in Astoria, a cheap German borough with grum and gritty delicatessen and hardware stores and the dead bricks of tenements. But after a year in Astoria we moved to Bensonhurst, then a rheumy marshland. A low, squab mist hovers over the bay which damps the job-lot stucco houses. Many months later I found an apartment in a block about ten minutes by elevated train from Queens Plaza. Queens is an immense warehouse for New York cadavers, and I had taken the greatest care to find rooms that were remote from the graveyards. But after I had signed the lease and was standing at the window overlooking high, shaggy-iodine-colored bushes, I found they concealed the cut-rate Virgin Marys and Christs of Calvary Cemetery.

— Edward Dahlberg, from Because I Was Flesh (1959)

Brooklyn-native Kenny Wisdom is the author of the forthcoming Frau Im Astoria (LTV Press), a spy novel.

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