This Week, I Read Beth Gordon: Particularly Dangerous Situation

Image Credit: Annie Spratt via Unsplash

“I cannot/ help you find your way, I can only send you photographs/of my first meal this year, stuffed portobella/ mushrooms peppered and without blood,” the speaker says in Beth Gordon’s collection of poems, Particularly Dangerous Situation.

I love how well the title fits the work in this book. This collection has a much darker tone than her previous book, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast, and Parallel Universe, which I reviewed about a year ago. The pieces in this collection have an overwhelming sense of dread, and they are all very timely.

In the poem, “Particularly Dangerous Situation,” the speaker says: “You met a Pagan in Ireland within walking distance/of the lighthouse where Marconi experimented with radio//waves unaware that no amount of science would save/the Titanic passengers, the dashes and the dots would arrive//too late.” This sets up the piece–grounding it in a sense of unease–this is already a doomed venture. Science, particularly, the telegraph, failed to save the Titanic and its passengers.

“She read your palm, predicted that you//would always have trouble breathing,” the speaker says. “She handed//you a magic slate rock filled with thunder and the breathing/habits of long distance runners.” The Pagan gives the “you” in the poem a fix, which can only work if the “you” believes in it. Belief is the crux of magic–this person can be saved if they believe. Given the reference to the Titanic, I feel like this is a ship that’s already sunk–the “you” does not believe, though this person found the story to be interesting enough to share with the speaker.

“Over glasses of beer she confessed//that she was dying, not a thing to share with just anyone,” the speaker goes on to say. “When/did this start you asked, and two weeks later when you told me//the story I already knew the answer: The moment I was born.”

This ending is interesting. The Pagan’s declaration that she is dying is not the deep, personal revelation that it originally sets out to be–everyone has been dying from the moment that they are born. Of course, we’re all dying. It’s a tongue-in-cheek gallows humor moment that is absolute perfection. Just like the Titanic was doomed, so too is the “you” in the poem.

Particularly Dangerous Situation is an interesting dark read. Gordon’s eye to detail is on point here–all of the way to the last line. I highly recommend this book, which is available through Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

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