Released in June 2020 by Broadstone Books, Dead Shark on the N Train by Susana H. Case is one of those volumes of poetry that reaches beyond the pale to explore gender. sexual politics and violence. The poetic range in this seventy-nine- page tome of poems is broad and compelling.
Case divides the volume into three sections: Living Dolls, Crime Scenes, and Storm Clouds. Each section carries the theme of the titles. For example, the poem Diva (After Maria Callas) on page five in The Living Dolls section explores the roll of an expensive and talented mistress who must sneak in a side door to see her dying lover. The poem is in two stanzas with the first stanza dominating in length. The poem speaks of a songstress being forced to sing since she was a child and turning from it to love. The first stanza ends with the power play of one lover over another.
If the man you love leaves you
to woo the most famous woman in the world
because she represents America—more
refined and even thinner than you—you’ll hole up
in your apartment until he begs you
to take him back, threatening to crash
his Mercedes into your building if you won’t.
The poem clearly represents the woman on the side who must sneak into the place where he is dying and calls herself his canary with her voice cracking on high C. The poem is successful in both implied and literal images that tells a story both of love and betrayal.
In the Crimes Scene section, Jane Doe a short three-stanza poem on page thirty-seven, mixes the image of the unknown female cadavers who are tagged with the name Jane Doe with a Smith who is only a Smith a per centage of the time. In the second stanza, aggression is hidden in the linen clarifies the situation. The third stanza of the poem is powerful in referencing the fragmented lives women lead– coordinated but undefined.
Fashionable teal and beige heels
at the foot of the bed.
Matching jacket on the chair.
Under the blanket, who is she really?
The stanza shows the image of a woman who outside of the bedroom presents one image but really is nothing more than a Jane Doe when protected by the bed clothes. Or is she?
In the final section, Storm Clouds, her title poem is presented on page fifty-two, Dead Shark on the N Train. The narrator speaks of a dead fish being admired then left behind on the subway to smell it up. Tongue in cheek, the narrator says nothing surprises New Yorkers. The poem then turns to a confession of how the narrator escaped the place she grew up but only makes it across the river. This is a clever way of showing how connected we are and that somehow, we don’t stray too far. The reader then sees a picture of not a dead fish on the N but a man on #1 who has a heart attack and dies. His corpse rode the loop.
If life is about a journey, both the fish and the man were involved with a major difference, one was noticed and the other was not.
.. .Like a man
in his habitat, he seemed to be napping
The poem is effective in its presentation of human nature in an everyday setting with an ironic twist.
I enjoyed this book. Case takes a consistently fresh approach no matter what subject she addresses. She has a light touch but profound meaning in her poetic work.
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.