Years ago a friend, Lynn McGee, said that she wanted me to meet a friend of hers, Susana Case, whom she thought was a wonderful poet, and not only that, but a favorite of hers. “You have to read her,” she insisted. When I did meet Susana a few years later—it seems like yesterday—I have to say we did get along immediately. Now a book of hers, Dead Shark on the N Train, has been published by Broadstone Books, but these days of the virus when live readings with people gathered together in a real room are not allowed, I would like to give it a shout out.
Dead Shark on the N Train delivers what the title promises, poems that on one level are very funny, and on another are not: there is a smile, even a laugh, but also something to carefully think about. These poems make you aware of where you are and you often look around.
The recording below is a Zoom reading on the Internet that Susana did. I made a Vimeo out of it. She was there and I was here, and here you are, dear reader. Enjoy.
Five poems from Dead Shark on the N Train:
Dead Shark on the N Train
Poor brown fish, beached
at Coney Island, then carried
in someone’s arms to the roller coaster
where another man thought it beautiful
and tried to transport it home, only
to abandon it on the subway,
and you know how it is
in New York City—nothing
surprises anyone. The car
reeked of dead shark, and passengers
took photos, debating
Instagram filters, when the conductor
asked everyone to leave
and closed off that train.
At the end of the line in Queens,
a transit worker plastic-
bagged the body and normalized the car.
I fled Queens when I grew up.
Like sharks that migrate freely, I traveled
to survive, didn’t want to reach
the end of my line in the same place I
started out from, though I ended up
just on the other side of the river.
When someone on the #1 had a heart
attack and died, his corpse rode the loop
from South Ferry to the Bronx and
back to South Ferry twice. Like a man
in his habitat, he seemed to be napping.
Unlike the shark, no one put a Metro Card
under his fin, cigarette in his jaws, can
of Red Bull by his side for the journey.
Diva (after Maria Callas)
If you’re forced to sing as a child
and you hate it, you’ll replace
devotion to singing with love.
If the man you love pushes you
to retire from the world to serve only him,
your talent just opens a hole in the earth
for you to fall though. And if you’re the chubby
ugly duckling as a child,
in your mind you’ll always be
the chubby ugly duckling.
Even after you bring in piles of money,
a public waiting on line for days
to hear you. Even when you lose
so much weight, you stress
your voice. You’ll be the difficult one,
the one who is gossiped
about when the man you love
isn’t the man you married.
If the man you love leaves you
to woo the most famous woman in the world
because she represents America—more
refined, 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.
But, if you’ve abdicated your power,
agreeing to be the lesser “wife,”
you don’t have the only thing
a man obsessed with power wants.
It doesn’t matter that you feel
like a woman—he will disappear for weeks,
forget to phone, call you
a cunt with a whistle in her throat.
Still, you’ll sneak in through the service
entrance to see him one last time
when he’s dying.
His canary, you’ll call yourself,
your voice cracking on the high C.
Bonny Doon Beach
At the clothes-optional section
of Bonny Doon, we nude women
group together, looking as if
we’ve beached against the cliff wall.
The blissful call out, Bless you, sister,
and a man who claims he entered
the void without psilocybin
moves to touch me, not for vile purposes,
but to infuse me with God’s energy,
as he is its conduit.
I snarl, and he moves on.
From here, you can sometimes spot
a migrating whale, but today
it’s just the guitar solos of the newly
released “Comfortably Numb”
on a woman’s boom box, a woman
who cautions me to avoid Bonny Doon
at night, when the scene
changes to not just rip currents,
but the risk of assault, and it’s harder
to avoid the broken glass on the trail
that winds its way down to the sand.
I Don’t Think We Should Call It Love
When Ford piqued the interest of Marianne Moore
in naming his new car,
he rejected Mongoose Civique and Utopian Turtletop.
Six thousand tries later his ad agency picked
Edsel and lost two hundred and fifty million dollars.
He should have listened to the poet.
Her Bullet Cloisonné was rejected too.
Pardon me while I appropriate and verbify:
I bullet cloisonné you.
Maybe you will someday bullet cloisonné me.
Cloisonné, so decorative, so little-thing,
made full melt or sunk melt, so easy to covet.
These days we’re talking cheap, light,
Tell me about it.
In the 1980s, the Oklahoma health department
issued a warning to women—half
the cloisonné in Oklahoma City
Uranium in the enamel could cause a skin rash.
and bad for my skin.
Tell me this is not a metaphor.
Tell me bullet isn’t self-explanatory.
Remind me none of this will kill me,
none of this will make me permanently ill.
mad, bad and dangerous to know
Niece of Georgina, Duchess of Devonshire,
Lady Caroline Lamb was described by Byron,
after a few hot months,
as an exaggerated woman,
another notch in his belt. He found
another lover or two.
Caroline sent him bloody clippings
of her pubic hair, bemoaned her fate
was his beautiful pale face.
She did not go quietly,
her mouth dripping venom.
Lady C put the affair in a novel, a volatile
tell-all. Her in-laws loathed
that indiscretion, thought they needed
to leash her, tried to ban her books,
have her declared insane.
Her husband finally left, taking his fetish
for flogging with him.
He became Prime Minister. She became
drinker—a bottle of sherry
every day (medicinal).
Sex, she decided, was a sin.
Lady Caroline forged poems in Byron’s name,
burnt him in effigy as she read
a rite of exorcism. Foucault’s link
between passion and madness.
It was her wayward childhood, she explained,
as she swayed with laudanum
laced with lavender oil.
I’m mad, she wrote.
Dead Shark on the N Train is published by Broadstone Books. You can check them out here:
You can check out Susana H. Case’s website here: