Beth Gordon: Fortuitous

                           Scattered, 1987, by Mary Hatch, oil on canvas, 36” x 40”



On the red-eye to Ranchos Palos Verdes for a global coding conference, oxygen masks fall like upside down jack-in-the boxes, the ocean grows, a round blue weed, etching figure eights on every window,

voices of my fellow passengers, like oily martinis, a mother grasps the flight attendant, explains her child is allergic to peanuts being consumed in seat 26E, the air crowded with toxins. For two hundred thirty

four days I’ve debated with myself, hidden messages inside viral love potions, scrolled past 1,692 responses to my queries, memorized unlikely answers to Frequently Asked Questions, the atmosphere

rattles like consumptive third world children, HIV-positive from the moment they entered. I researched all available tools with growing frustration at the sloppy options, the uncertain combinations of meth,

vodka and caffeine, my fear of pain, the precisely measured inches from my 3rd story ledge to the litter-strewn ground, the inner workings of metal detectors, home-manufactured strap-on bombs, poison

disguised as rare chocolate truffles, the sound of hungry sparrow hatchlings, the rudeness of leaving blood behind, demands for background checks when purchasing assault rifles, my mother’s looming

birthday, all solved with unintentional engine failure, my happy groans unheard above the allergic wheezing, the churning carry-on baggage, the ordinary screams, the exquisite sound of rushing water.

Beth Gordon


Review by Debra Kaufman
I found myself rereading this piece several times. The title, as we discover by the end, is both ironic and apt, and the form is effective. The poem begins in a dramatic and precarious place—a falling plane—then, for several stanzas, winds its way through what the speaker observes both in the plane and in her own mind and memory. By the third stanza the speaker reveals she has been debating, responding to, and memorizing various dark and unusual actions (“hidden messages,” “unlikely answers”), each revelation keeping the reader riveted, with the last short lines of each stanza acting as cliff-hangers. The speaker intertwines her vision of the “fellow passengers,” third-world desperation, and her own suicidal-homicidal thoughts in an eerily cool voice as the poem unravels to its surprising yet inevitable end.

Review by Steven Reese
Every time I go back through this piece, I can’t help thinking: O, this must have been a joy to write. It’s certainly a joy to read, despite itself. The subject is, of course, appalling, but the details are delicious and produce an effect that’s buoyant even as the speaker, passengers, crew, and plane are precisely not. I can only pick a few favorites: the ocean’s figure eights at the window, horrifying but to my mind also introducing a symbol for eternity at the very moment all these lives are ending; the peanut allergy, the least of that flight attendant’s concerns, surely; those 1,692 responses, the convincing specificity of that; those poison truffles, the sweetness in death; the hungry sparrow hatchlings, urging the cause of life while the speaker is trying to point herself in the opposite direction; the “rudeness” of making a bloody mess when you take yourself out—how thoughtless!; and the rushing water, which is indeed an exquisite sound, but not for the reasons meant by this speaker. That this sort of catastrophe might be “fortuitous,” a problem-solver, is a delightful conception.

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