Sarah's secret garden

THE INVISIBLE MENDER by Sarah Maguire, Cape pounds 7

Physical presence, the tang and tangibility of people, places, and plants, plays a large part in Sarah Maguire's rewarding second collection. "Big granite pebbles / exhaled the whole day's heat / like fresh loaves just tipped from the tin" ("Swimming to Spinalonga"); "My palm traces the muscles of walls / softened by a millennium of palms and shoulders" ("Mahbouba Zaida's Hands"); "The knife stop - my right thumb / criss- crossed with hair scars / tarnished with sap" ("My Grafting Knife"). Sensuous, textured, reticent, the verse is keen on technicalities and proper names, and happy only to hint at the larger issues - love, friendship, political oppression - which lie beneath its vivid surfaces.

The best moments come in the last of four sections, with a tender, elegiac evocation of the birth mother she hardly knew, in the title poem; and in "The Hearing Cure", which starts as a meditation on the subject of ear-wax - "My left ear / solid, as though / half the world / is moored in perspex" - but turns into a gravely magical lament for, and celebration of, "that precious music, / the pitch of flesh / on flesh". At one point the "call and echo" of bats wheeling in the dusk is described as "making feeling from / reflection", and that Wordsworthian notion isn't a bad description of what's going on in these poems, though the settings are largely urban, and the natural piety is earned.

"Stigmata", "suturing", "glaucous", "maculate" make several appearances, suggesting that the urge to make large gestures has not been repressed altogether. The translations of Tsvetaeva's love poems to Pasternak in Section Two don't convince; without the engines of metre and rhyme this most passionate of poets goes nowhere. "My hot veins boil / against this chain of poesy, these throttling rhymes" - "poesy" surely departed the English language, if not the Russian, with Shelley.

The third section, "Nursery Practices", commemorates Maguire's skill as a professional gardener - a good Marvellian subject - and is full of sappy details about things "cloistered in glass", "phototropic with desire", and the gardener-poet as "postulant to the blooms". It's all very sexy, the language stripped-down yet pumped-up, oscillating between submissive wonder and breathy identification with Mother Nature's "hairy and maculate" blooms. There's more explicit sex in "Dust", with the poet holding a just- used condom up to the light to watch "the still-warm cells seething and dividing"; but as in the earlier "Spilt Milk" the apparently sensational subject-matter is treated with respectful interest rather than with a leer. Golden girls and lads all must, as sperm and buddleia, come to dust.

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