Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, Dara-Lyn Shrager


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Dara-Lyn Shrager has an uncommon gift for distilling moments of ordinary terror into essential awareness. Her language is taut, precise, and harrowing. She writes at once out of radical vulnerability and extreme vigilance. All is vividly beheld, but the poet is word-bitten, tired in the eyes from seeing. Rarely have I read a first book so utterly focused, sustained, and perceptive. In the title poem, she is at sea, awake and alone in the dark, working the radio to signal that a storm is coming, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee is that warning, and it is a triumph of a debut.
—Carolyn Forché


There is such a keen observer in these poems—not just of animals, plants, land and sea,—but of self. An observant ego is behind all of these poems—a speaker who is not afraid of appearing just so—“pretty” or decidedly not, as in the emblematic “Wild Child” where Shrager replies “I am nobody’s friend and you can’t make me.” Each poem tutors us for what is to come—for the next and the next beautifully crafted poem. And the collection as a whole is seamlessly presented, paced, ordered, but this is not a well-behaved, tied-in-a-pink-bow book. This is a raw and visceral collection, masterful and compelling. Riveting, actually.
—Martha Rhodes


In her poetry collection Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee, Dara-Lyn Shrager delivers the sumptuous darkness and eerie rapture of a gothic novel, braiding ribbons of narrative and pastoral meditation with moments of pure music. In the world of this book, nature serves as aggressor and accomplice, and the body is a vulnerable fortress. “The Club” shows us how, “Baby redpolls
leave their nests, feast / then tip to their deaths in wet tombs,” while in “Bee Mountain” we watch as, “The sun finds us and slips / us on like a strand of hot metal beads.” The sublime pervades this collection and illuminates it, whether we are stumbling upon, “hundreds of monarch butterflies / among asphalt pebbles, flattened / beer cans, shreds of newsprint, / cigarette thumbs” or “clanging all through the night in song.” A stunning and visceral book, Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee will draw even the skeptical poetry reader under its spell.

—Mary Biddinger

“I am the halyards, clanging all through the night in song.”Share on Twitter


“There is nothing to do but swim/ so we swim toward each other.”Share on Twitter


View from the Leeward Deck


We spent my lifetime scooping water back into the sea
with half-gallon jugs relieved of their mouths, buckets lacking
handles, yellow rain boots, our puckered hands. Cold, green
waves muscled their way aboard and began to swallow
the fiberglass hull keeping us from the pitch & dumb
of the black sea floor. While you were wrestling the snapping jib,


I simply floated away. A plastic spoon in a wide, china bowl.


Now you are sailing far from the cove’s dark embrace.
You don’t see me but I’m back with you, worrying over sand bars
and whitecaps. Salt-blind, you man the tiller, cursing lanterns
that have burned through the last of their kerosene. My father,
you are as near to broken as your ship of splintered teak and chafing
hull. And I am the halyards, clanging all through the night in song.


Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee


When the dinghy engine failed to start, I tied
a thousand figure eights and my fingers pruned.
The brackish waters were boozy with gasoline.
That night, a plastic moon above the main hatch
and the propane stink of a gimbaled stove, while
the bilge pump choked in the fiberglass hull. Slaps
enough from the green sea. The rest of the family
slept because they could in moldy bunks, black
confetti on white vinyl, the teak weathered gray.
I camped by the CB calling Whiskey, X-Ray, Yankee,
9-1-8-0. The stars looked dry and too distant
to care. At daybreak I woke on the aft deck
soaked in dew, mildew creeping along the inside
of my back. I have smelled it inside my nose
for years. I have gotten so good at forgiving.


Dara-Lyn Shrager lives in Princeton, New Jersey, and is the co-founder and editor of Radar Poetry. She holds an MFA from Bennington College and a BA from Smith College. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in many journals, including Southern Humanities Review, Barn Owl Review, Salamander, Yemassee, Whiskey Island, Tinderbox, and Nashville Review. Her articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines including The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and Philadelphia Magazine. Learn more at: www.daralynshrager.com.