This week, I read Beth Gordon’s collection of poems, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe. The book begins with the piece, “I’m Inventing a New Language,” a prose poem which sets the quirky, otherworld tone for the collection. The speaker says “I’m as close/ to zero as I was the day I started, splicing consonants from vampire, /nouns from asphyxiation, learning to navigate butter-thick pronunciations/ of hurricane fables, jellyfish stew, hush puppies and mermaid bones.” The poem uses concrete symbols to create this new language, using language and symbols evocative of dreams, myths, and the titular parallel universe. “I’m using a 3-D printer to build a labyrinth/from nursery rhymes and the lingering thunder of Emily Dickinson’s/burial gown,” the speaker tells us, indicating that the language and universe are created by contemporary means to evoke the experience of canonical poets. I agree—this book does just that. It creates magic and mythology of its own as it explores the parallel universe—a space concurrent to our own, one where poets’ minds are at work.
The poems have the feel of ritual, and that you’re getting the chance to peer beyond the veil. “I retrace the steps/ of buttermilk biscuits that you set out/for ancestors, I look to the lighted/candle, crumbs and melted wax for answers,” the speaker in “Crown: In Which I Compare You to a Sherpa on Day of the Dead” says, demonstrating that small gestures here in this universe have larger outcomes, the possibility for providing the answers that are sought.
This collection is, at times, darkly themed, ruminating on death, hurricanes, Ouija boards (not that this is a problem—I am a massive fan of this). These are balanced with the definite sparkle of magical elements which give the pieces depth and layers. I once had a painting teacher who said that in even the darkest works, there should be “just a hint of hope.” And I think that this is done well here. There are some really beautiful images that complement the dark harbingers that are contained within. I particularly like when the poet compares mortality to French toast. This is a beautiful book, with some really original ideas and I highly recommend it. It is forthcoming through Animal Heart Press on May 1, 2019!