cover image Customs


Solmaz Sharif. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (72p) ISBN 978-1-64445-079-6

Sharif (Look) movingly excavates in her powerful second collection an internal landscape haunted by psychic dissonance and fractured identity. As the title suggests, these works are preoccupied with the in-between. The speaker is sometimes in an airport, but often in a state of alienation relating to those around her: "We were tanners/ pushed to the edge of the/ city," she explains, "Then we worked/ the cafeterias/ at the// petroleum offices of the British. Then, revolution./ Simple." She visits Shiraz in a poem titled "The End of Exile," feeling both at home and foreign at once: "As the dead, so I come to the city I am of. Am without." Sharif captures the bleak shape that everyday objects can suddenly take on when one is in a dark mood: "The fridge is a thing with weak magnets, a little sweaty on the inside/ A bag of shriveled limes." Many poems are addressed as letters to a person called Aleph, the first letter in the Arabic and Hebrew alphabets, and in one particularly striking example, the poet contemplates systems of power through the lens of Ethel Rosenberg's execution. Sharif's commanding voice reverberates throughout this complex and confident collection. (Mar.)