Rory Waterman in PN Review 253
This pamphlet – a long sequence, really – is dedicated to a child:
I fold the corner of the page to mark our place
and smooth the hair from a sleeping face.
Nobody knows how a story ends.
There are too many poems about parenthood, an experience as apparently magical for those experiencing it as it is typically boring for everyone else when poured into epiphanic poetry. But this isn’t the usual paean. Menos’s son Linus, the dedicatee, suffered kidney failure, and took one of his mother’s kidneys – ‘your kidney / which I am keeping warm’ – in what at first appeared to be a successful transplant. Two years later, his body rejected it, and he went on dialysis. This pamphlet documents these experiences, sometimes aslant and sometimes head on, with an acuity available only to a genuinely superb poet with a heightened passion for her subject. The result is one of the most moving, stylish and, indeed, life-affirming pamphlets I have read in years.
Menos isn’t a formalist, but her poems often suddenly click into subtle metre and rhyme at just the right moment. Sometimes she uses curtal lines, though she never over-does the trick, so its surprise doesn’t wear off. ‘Oblatory’, a poem in step with traditions and seasonal shifts, ends with a present attempt at respite, and a reverie of the past:
I kneel and rest my forehead on the ground
and remember another time, another place.
Your first smile. Your lit face.
And in ‘Admission’:
I write a letter to you, at home with our son,
and bury it deep in my notebook
between special diets and test results and plans
where only you would look
Just in case anything goes wrong.
Up at six, down at eight, out by twelve, recovery till two.
I’m counting hours. It won’t be long.
I love you.
The pamphlet’s two powerful leitmotifs, playing fugue to the main narrative, are icons of Christian faith (viewed with some irony), and the ‘Mud Man’ who ‘squats in the copse, / his one long leg slung out like a telegraph pole’, and ‘looks at me through struck flint eyes’: ‘We must feed him every weekend, says my son, / and we do’. Occasionally, these streams of thought come into temporary confluence: ‘The Mud Man believes in revelation’, though he ‘does not expect to find what he seeks in any cathedral / but out here’. It does him no good: towards the end of the pamphlet he is ‘gone, replaced by an access road’, ‘a spatter of sawdust where we used to sit’, and ‘a smear of part-digested sloe berries’: ‘Sometimes trees are just trees, mud is mud’. The pamphlet ends with ‘Sloe Gin’, a poem of meditation and ritual, a lesson in faltering onwards, dressed up as a set of instructions:
Sloes are defiant fruit, each one hard won.
Walk home the long way, clutching your pot or pan
And sobbing. Guidance. I’d hoped to give you more.
Add sugar and gin. Shake. Store.
Time matures the thing. At least, adds distance.