Natalie Tombasco

A landfill could be a sort of time capsule—trove of tchotchkes from the twentieth century: 8-track tape, all 7 seasons of Buffy, an exes’ moth-bitten t-shirt of the Velvet Underground. Wastescape of old wounds: sulphuric & clusterfuck & rank stench that makes you roll up the car window & drive fast over the Bayonne. A salt marsh could be a garbage heap. Origins beginning with the Lenape, Fresh Kills (from the Dutch word kille, meaning “riverbed” or “water channel”) was an estuary on northwest Staten Island. It was a breeding ground for oysters, turtles, toads, migratory birds. The Forgotten Borough, as Islanders called it, was the black sheep for its unruly green—no slaughterhouses or factory smoke. Emerson loved it. The island would consume all of the City’s trash from 1948 to 2001. The island became “the Dump”; backdrop of a throwaway culture. Container for the metropolis’ unwanted residue: bruised plums, the not-so-pretty produce cast off from neon-lit supermarkets. Shoo shoo. Out of sight, out of mind. Monstrous, 2,200 acres that could be seen from Outerspace: plastic milk jugs, cheap beer, sporks. Bad memory, erased. “Your dad works at the Dump,” said a girl as her father droned about the Dow on the drive to soccer practice. King of the Heap, my father operated cranes atop the gull-gray mountain, came home with oil-stained palms all through the 90s. Slick & hard to hang onto. Pecking away nine to five, breathing in methane. When the Twin Towers collapsed, he sifted through “the Pile” for briefcases & body parts while breathing in lead, paint fumes, asbestos. Shoo shoo went 1.6 million tons of rubble & steel beams on the last barge headed to Fresh Kills. A landfill could be a sort of sacred ground, the kind that makes you do the sign of the cross & a couple of Hail Marys. In the Anthropocene, a landfill can shut its toxic mouth, conceal itself in pliant liners, gas vents, topsoil—become a human-engineered stratum. The dump could become a park! In a Leslie Knope kind of hope, a return of great blue heron, osprey, muskrats. There will be kayaking & Shakespeare in the Park! No longer an eyesore or laughing stock. A place for healing, for possibility! But on the park’s new soccer fields, I can’t get that fresh-cut-grass-high I did as a kid. It is summer; the scorched field smells like three-day-old takeout & the black beads of astroturf linger in my shoes & hair. Disposable island of hacking coughs & not knowing if Dad will be home. Despite the veneer of sod, I remember that true thing: the hideous stench that is our legacy.

Natalie Tombasco headshot

Natalie Louise Tombasco is pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at Florida State University and serves as the Interviews Editor of the Southeast Review. Her work can be found in Copper Nickel, Southwest Review, Fairy Tale Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Meridian, Salt Hill, Third Coast, The Rumpus, The Boiler, Poet Lore, among others. She has been nominated for the Best New Poets anthology for 2020 and has a chapbook forthcoming with CutBank in 2021 titled Collective Inventions.