Dead Shark on the N Train
by Susana H. Case

Review by Angela Gregory-Dribben

Dead Shark on the N Train
Susana H Case
(2020, Broadstone Books)
$22.50, Paper

Susana H. Case’s Dead Shark on the N Train, proof of a poet’s practice in discernment, demonstrates the existence, and subsequent power of seeing, gender parallels across cultures and time. Poems whisk readers away on global expeditions. We visit a Portuguese colony in India where “churches are full of doves that sound like the ghosts of crying babies.” We hike “uphill from Pokhara to Sarangkot, for a better view of the Annapurnas.” Where Case finds, “women have less, the higher I go.” I feel myself wobbly as a passenger on the wrist of this poet’s long arm sweeping across the world picking up pieces of truths like “Steel bars hang over many a man’s hangover.”

Not only does she string lighted strands joining time to time, artist to artist, murderer to the murdered, lover to lover, male to female but also from the moments within love’s cycles. The immortality grief provides lovers, “he shakes his head—no, misses the woman who, when music played, swayed close to him in moonlight. He likes to imagine she breathes underwater, will know to swim to where the rice floats.” Or the seemingly inevitable end to love, “Because he leaves the way men always leave.”

Case brilliantly provides just the right amount of detail to make each poem work, to connect it to the larger body of work, and to intrigue a reader’s senses to want to take a closer look. She selected such engaging stories that it spurs me beyond its own text to sift through history, spin a globe, become acquainted with other’s beliefs. “Menominee Indians believe the universe started with a drop of water. Every killing. Every poem. Every storm.”

Case plays rough with her camera lens. In the first section, Living Dolls, I often feel as if I am side-by-side with her investigating gender: her own, that of others, similarities in the naming of a woman over cultures. In the section Crime Scenes, Case uses Francis Glesener Lee, who could teach forensics but as a woman could not pursue a career as a detective, as the poems’ oculus. “Glessner Lee wants you to think.” Susana H. Case wants you to think.

She uses the eye of the forensic scientist to write the poem, bringing to the reader’s attention how remarkably similar the observation of a poet is to that of the investigator. These almost-not-quite list poems press observation against the page igniting a reader’s awareness of the way we occupy space in our homes and our relationships. “Observe the rope thin woman, the crosscut saw and peavey, dirty dishes on the table, garbage on the floor, liquor bottles, broken chair, the dead woman curled up in their common bed.”

Even more startling about this work is that the poet’s management of her own attention to detail and universal commonality isn’t accomplished only in the breadth of the collection, it is even within the individual line “We were lizards dreaming like birds.”

Case’s latest collection, Dead Shark on the N Train, due out in June 2020 from Broadstone Books, is alert, vigilant, committed to elevating the details so that we all may see.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 22, Issue 2.

Angela DribbenAngela Gregory-Dribben’s poetry and essays can be found or are forthcoming in Main Street Rag, Deep South, San Pedro River Review, Crab Creek Review, Crack the Spine, New Southern Fugitive, and others. A Bread Loaf alum, she is currently a student in Randolph College’s MFA.

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