The possum is roadkill, the poem’s narrator arrived too late to save it. The discursive, stream-of-consciousness style poems concern themselves with what is and what might be. Their starting point is often a news item. “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning” starts with the news of the drowning of a toddler while her parents were distracted, believing that if their daughter fell into a pool, she’d shout out and thrash but instead she sunk. The poem then widens its scope and ends,
“That children born on the shredded edges of this planet will find within
their necessary lives the whispered footsteps
of dragonflies in half-morning rooms, the underbellies of rocks, an unearthly
blue, thick with consecrated salt, the chime
of pebbles in water that carries them into the afterlife or submersion:
arrhythmic, dripping, newly divine and silent.”
It considers human interaction with nature, the small details that can shift perspective, the sense that our lives on this planet in the grip of climate change might be borrowed time and our children will adapt or drown.
A sequence, “While You Are In Iceland”, sees a temporary separation for a couple when one travels while the other stays home, dealing with the shifts in being alone while on “Day 2: The News”,
“The television says that more students are dead in Texas, gunned down while mixing paint and imagining their summer vacations, of stripping to near naked for sun, for water, for love. You send me photos of ice sculpted by the old Gods that they will never see or maybe have already seen in the instant of their slaughter. Outside my window honeysuckle is dying on the vine, sweetness turned to rot, the rain continues, I envy your escape”
The sender of images from Iceland doesn’t yet know the news. The narrator considers the loss of students, not just of their lives but also their potential. It affects the way she sees the landscape. The wet weather suggests sorrow. The honeysuckle, something nurtured, is rotting. The narrator does not suggest it could be rescued with appropriate treatment; she has absorbed the news of children’s deaths and despairs over taking action or fixing it. The sequence ends with “Day 10: Homecoming” where the narrator begs her partner not to return,
“Do not exchange magical incantations for sirens, for shrieking and gnashing of teeth, for countless bloody corpses. I will miss every moment of you: our morning eggs, the way we trade words like lemon drops on the tongue”
But’s not just in America where deaths occur. “Day 9: Seal Pup” sees the partner tell the narrator about an incident where a man ignorantly smeared a seal pup with human scent, setting of a fatal chain of events where the mother will reject it. However, the narrator only seems to be concerned with student deaths and the resulting anguish of being unable to prevent them.
There is a second sequence interspersed with the other poems, a series of cropped sonnet crowns where each in the series features three linked sonnets (the final line in the first sonnet, becomes the first line in the second; the final line in the second becomes the first line in the third and the final line of the third is also the first line of the first sonnet). This framework gives a structure to what sees to be a loose, woolly gathering of thoughts and musings over different ways of making martinis, French toast, rehab and mortality. The juxtapositions between the trivial and serious take skill to achieve and Beth Gordon succeeds. Gathering of thoughts and the opportunities for misunderstandings feature in the final poem, “Dancing Barefoot in Mississippi”,
“.. as I dance to Led Zeppelin and you turn your attention back to Ireland with thick mutton gravy and potato-infused pies, this is what I will eat for my next meal, this is the brogue of my first husband, the way I followed his whiskey-ed voice into motherhood and tried for years to understand the mysteries of marriage, this is the sound of rain, of arctic circle, the sound of sobbing trains, and you tell me that I tell you that I love every song, this is the sound of my wandering feet, like ghosts of mice, the sound of floors, of days, this is what I’ve been singing all along.”
It takes a great deal of skill to make phrases look as if they’ve just been thrown on a page when they’ve actually been carefully selected to fit a casual speech pattern and still retain an internal logic, the next association following from the previous. The repetition of “sound” is a reminder that the narrator is listening and her thoughts flow from the song she is listening to, the memories associated with it and where she is in the present.
“Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe” examines the shifts between the present and the possible, the what ifs? What if the narrator had arrived in time to avert the possum from the road? What if the narrator’s partner had taken his walk two hours earlier and warned the man not to touch the seal pup? The poems explore the decisions we make, the paths taken to arrive at our present. The long lines and prose allow for expansion as one thought is pushed to see how far it will go. The casualness of language chosen by Beth Gordon belies the careful choices and construction underneath the poems.