Human Tissue, Hilary Menos
Smith/Doorstop, 2020 £6.00
The hard way
This collection shares a particularly hard life journey: the poet’s son Linus received a kidney transplant from his mother; two years later the kidney was rejected. It’s an intensely personal story. But these are not poems set solely in hospital beds and waiting rooms. They’re set at home, with the family’s iconic mascot, ‘The Mud Man’, at the bottom of their garden. (He is important — and introduced right at the start, in the first poem, which is named after him.) And they’re poems that travel — across subject and land in search of ways through.
Imaginative leaps provide their own connections. In places her themes merge, the poems operating as bridges. ‘Mountain of Heaven’ begins:
The Mud Man looks like Ben Nevis —
as high as ten St Paul’s but without the convenience of a staircase.
The popular tourist path requires modest scrambling ability
and a head for heights. I choose the hard way
to learn the meanings of words
This poet’s journeying is resourceful. She gathers not only words, but stones, and stories, information, science and sloes. There are switches of tone — ‘Hats Off!’ takes ‘Hats off to Ronald Lee Herrick’, the identical twin who became the world’s first organ donor. Above all, she makes her own passage. And yes, it’s hard. Even the Mud Man, on whom she relies as an image, has to go, in ‘Tumba Dios’:
My mercenary, my advocate, my hero.
There’s a spatter of sawdust where we used to sit
Again, she needs to move on. Rely on new images — so, ‘Scaffolding’ as a poem title for a poem with no capitals to prop it up at all:
coax stem cells
leeched from marrow
or spun from blood
Together, the poems forge a kind of personal creed: that we have to find our own unique way, and somehow we do, even through the hardest parts. As it wends its way home, to ‘Sloe Gin’:
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.