Deep Fahrenheit by Amy Gordon
ISBN 9781632751720. 23pp
Deep Fahrenheit by Amy Gordon, explores the discovery of the world around the poem’s narrators and the realisation they are no longer the centre of the universe and there are connections and consequences to explore. From the opening poem, “Field Under Stars”,
” Only yesterday, she believed the sun
couldn’t rise without her, but this morning,
as stars go wherever it is they go,
as birds wake, and trees at the far edge of the field
turn gold, she can feel
the wobble of the earth — how it revolves
around the great circle of light”
The narrator is standing in a wheat field “below her lord’s castle on the hill”, a pointer towards history of an unspecified period, yet the language feels contemporary. The poem describes her as standing in a field of wheat with a scythe, which implies she working, but no one tackles a field alone and no explanation is within the poem. The sense that the poem’s subject is observing and discovering comes over but it has a credibility problem.
The title comes from “Otter Pond”, a walk on icy snow, where
“warm springs undermine
my faith. Foot breaks through,
and essence of muck rises.
I’m up to my shin
in the deep Fahrenheit below.”
The springs melting the ice from below causing the walker’s foot to break through the ice and sink into the muck underneath is visual. I got stuck on “deep Fahrenheit” though. I follow that a scale of temperature can have shallow and deep settings relative to a fixed point, but, here, “deep” suggests the temperature below the ice is deeper (lower) than the temperature of the ice which is contradicted by “warm springs”. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for a deeper understanding and connection with the natural world, the emergence of less egocentric vision. In which case, I still think “Fahrenheit” is the wrong choice of word.
Amy Gordon’s poems aren’t just rooted in nature, “Conductor” starts
“Her music teacher was blown up
so she posts on Facebook:
Music needed in a War Zone.”
Its matter-of-fact tone moves into fantasy as violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, oboes and a grand piano move into the “war zone” to create an orchestra. The poem ends
“The door, carved out of live oak, stays open
long enough in the ancient hall
for Mozart to slip in. The seventeen-year-old girl
raises her slight wand, begins to conduct.”
It’s a lovely fantasy about music lifting people through darkest times. By the end of the poem, readers have lost sight of the war that caused the music teacher’s death and triggered the fantasy. The slipping away from the real world and aiming for a timelessness where Mozart can appear works here, unlike in the opening poem, because the intention is clearly not rooted in reality.
The final poem “Sunset” ends
“The planet tilted, stopped, turned on its axis,
reversed direction. Birds in branches above me groaned,
devolving into dinosaurs. The oak tree shed its bark,
a giant fern unfolded from its core, and I could smell the sea
lapping up the miles on salty feet. I wanted to see you
one last time. By morning I knew I would be extinct,
I began to run.”
The poem brings the reader back to the theme of connecting with the natural world and seeing beyond one’s self. This time with added urgency and a nod to climate change.
“Deep Fahrenheit” explores the connections between people and the natural world, the awakening awareness of consequences of human actions and their impact on nature. The poems aim for a sense of timelessness, suggesting history leaks into the present and present actions are capable of turning back time. The languid tone and Amy Gordon’s tendency to use long sentences give the poems a passive rhythm, a sense that their narrators stand and record, unable to do much to prevent or postpone the inevitable cycle of day into night, one season giving way to the next and the cycle of life.