“A truly magical achievement.” —Ocean Vuong
In a powerful and urgent follow-up to his award-winning debut Into Each Room We Enter without Knowing, Charif Shanahan’s poems in Trace Evidence explore the complexities of mixed-race identity, the tension of queer longing, time and mortality, and the brutal legacy of anti-Blackness in the United States and abroad. At the collection’s center sits “On the Overnight from Agadir,” a poem about Shanahan’s journey to his mother’s home country of Morocco, cut short by a devastating bus accident that broke his neck—an injury he miraculously survived. In the aftermath, Shanahan ruminates on home, belonging, and the mysteries of fate.
With rich lyricism and tenderness, Trace Evidence centers the racial periphery and insists that the legacies of our violent colonial past, the “evidence” that persists in traces, are relevant to, and the responsibility of, everyone. Shanahan articulates the desire we all share for true intimacy and connection, and offers a language we might all understand in a world intent on classifying and dividing.
Trace Evidence is an astute, subversively reserved, and propulsive book, in which reverence for the line and its possibilities fashions an eros that’s made new through precise yet concussive turns of phrases. All of which reminds you what sits at the heart of these poems: that ‘you are actually very good at joy.’ A truly magical achievement.
—Ocean Vuong, bestselling author of Time Is a Mother
Revelatory and pulsating with truth, Trace Evidence is a dangerously wise book of poems. Each poem is full of muscular music and meticulously carved out of longing as they ask, not just why we live, but how we live, and for whom. Wholly human and deeply rooted in attention, this book is for anyone who has ever questioned where they belonged.
—Ada Limón, 24th U.S. Poet Laureate
Charif Shanahan is examining race and sexuality in ways I have not seen. Trace Evidence mines the most intimate reaches of our colonial past to ask these important questions: How do we live and love with so much betrayal? Betrayal of the self, by family, lovers, friends, the body’s betrayal of itself? Notably, the book contends with an anti-Blackness beyond the familiar narratives of our contemporary moment: here, it emanates from the Arab world and from within the very parent who confers Blackness to her children, offering nuance and complexity to the ways in which we tend to consider the subject. And while there is a through-line of pain in this book, as it explores the liminality of mixed-race identity, time and mortality, it neither ends in despair nor seeks to assign blame. . . . Charif’s is a necessary voice.
—Natasha Trethewey, 19th U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Native Guard
In Trace Evidence, Charif Shanahan writes a world. It is a whole world, a full world, because Shanahan knows what to leave out—his is neither a maximalist’s art, nor a minimalist’s art, but a completist’s art, an art that understands maximalism tends toward deception, and minimalism tends toward exclusion. A poet who is a completist is a welcoming poet, and in its treatment of some of the most divisive social issues of our day, Trace Evidence is a wholly welcoming book, a book in which a reader can live.
—Shane McCrae, author of Cain Named the Animal
Epic in scope, packed with emotional power, fiercely intelligent, sensual, erotic, audacious, tracing lineages of race and of family and of love, presenting the hard evidence of socially structured hatred and destruction, spiritually infused with human being: ‘If you are on this earth / You are of this earth,’ the poet insists, in a book brilliantly and beautifully shaped and alive with the hope that poetry alone can bring. I call out Trace Evidence for what it is: a masterpiece.
—Lawrence Joseph, author of A Certain Clarity: Selected Poems