Trace Evidence: Poems

Tin House. Mar. 2023. 112p. ISBN 9781953534668. pap. $16.95. POETRY
With lyrical precision, Shanahan’s second collection (after Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing) burrows into the difficult questions of how one might live, and why. Amid the overlapping and ambiguous contexts of biracial identity, nationality, family, and sexuality (“To speak at all/ I must occupy a position/ In a system whose positions/ I appear not to occupy), the poems build toward something of a unified theory, rejecting the simplifications of clear labels or false distinctions, embracing questions and multiplicity (“his kin/ Being caught, yes, but not between,/ Rather inside the two, as we are/ Inside our bodies/ Gnarly and awkwardly the same”). A long poem, “On the Overnight from Agadir,” anchors the collection, detailing a life-threatening bus crash in Morocco, and it serves as a visceral inquiry into mortality and existence (“Where does the inquiry begin Does it begin in my particular body in my particular mind/ Does it begin centuries before me Does it begin in my mother Does in begin in all these places At once”).
VERDICT Shanahan’s new work meets anguish and pain directly and ultimately proposes a tender and expansive possibility: “If you are on this earth/ You are of this earth.” Emotionally vulnerable and insightful; a work in which all readers likely will find something of themselves.
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