The Mechanics of Love — Victoria Gatehouse
Smith | Doorstop, 2019 £7.50
The appliance of science
Starting with the perfumery of ‘Poison, 1986’, and the ‘Sixth Form Science Technician’ being sent out to collect supplies for student experiments, science leaps out of many of the poems. The second of these has a chilling ending:
[ ... ] Cooling in my lap,
that container of pigs’ blood, sloshing
beneath its brown paper cover
In a masterstroke of sequencing, we move from the cooling blood to the heating up of skin (and blood) in ‘Fortune Teller Fish’, where
A scientist now, you could explain
that whisper-thin strip as hygroscopic —
swelling or receding with the level
of moisture in the skin
And the science parts continue with ‘the titanium valve in your heart’ of the title piece — a moving love poem about surviving and recovery. However, it makes its presence most keenly, but more subtly felt, in two poems towards the end of the collection.
In ‘Web on the Wing Mirror’, we see some beautiful sleight of hand. All of the construction and protection that has gone before is brought into rapid focus (like a microscope) as a spider’s web on a car’s wing mirror, built after ‘grafting all night’, is revealed as a distraction from thinking about a scan of an unborn child:
And she hung on in there
on a line taut as hope, flickered
like a heartbeat on a twelve-week scan
The second of these poems is ‘Cord’ — taking place roughly six months and five days after the previous poem. A new-born’s umbilical cord falls off and is found in a cot, having
[ ... ] pulsed between us, blue-white
vigorous, the best I had to give —
stem-cell, lymphocytes, streaming
down the line they had to cut off.
It’s fitting that Victoria Gatehouse has a day job in medical research — these poems take a microscopic look at love and life as though they’ve been carefully sampled on a slide and Gatehouse is noting the beauty and fragility of the findings.