Into Each Room We Enter Without Knowing

Charif Shanahan. Southern Illinois Univ., $15.95 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-0-8093-3577-0
Shanahan breaks fresh ground in this painfully raw debut, dissecting the self in its cultural context via speakers who fearlessly claim both vulnerability and culpability. Shanahan, the Bronx-raised child of a Moroccan mother and an Irish-American father, superimposes Morocco’s multiple colonial legacies over American racial politics. The opener, “Gnawa Boy, Marrakesh, 1968,” establishes an uncompromising documentary tone and a grasp of resonant polarities: “One palm faces down to show the black/ Surface of hand, the other facing up/ White as his desert’s sky.” Shanahan binds the personal and political in his deft free-verse lyrical suite “Homosexuality.” Meanwhile, “Passing” conflates the notion of ethnic camouflage with the experience of journey by train: “The train slides into a long tunnel/ The lights flicker off// and I am back inside my mother.” As locations—Ticino, Switzerland; Zurich; Budapest—fly by in chromatic snapshots, the travelogue turns psychological. Thematic symmetries, subtly sonorous internal rhymes, and emphatic cadences weave into a fine, fray-resistant fabric. The reader gets caught in mesmerizing “untold cascading reflections,” as if identity were the waterfall of which Shanahan writes in “Wanting to Be White.” Shanahan’s is a vital and profound new voice, and his eyebrow-raising interrogation leaves the reader with afterimages “as the eye/ after the shock flash/ still sees/ the lightning.” (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 06/05/2017
Release date: 01/01/2017
Genre: Fiction
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