The Robot Scientist’s Daughter by Jeannine Hall Gailey is a collection of poems that are quite powerful. While my initial attraction to the collection was the title and beautiful book cover, it soon became apparent that these poems run so much deeper than that. The collection reflects on the author’s own childhood growing up near the Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee where nuclear experiments were conducted and the effects that this had on her growing up and years later on her health as an adult.
The poems are so full of imagery and I thought sadness. Sadness in growing up as a kid and not knowing that doing something as simple as chewing on a blade of grass or tasting snow could be so bad for you. As you read her words you can almost feel the radiation and sickness closing in on you; the unfairness of it all. Yet there is hope in the the water lilies that bloom and the sunflowers that are planted and in just being a kid. It was interesting to see both sides of the coin – the goodness and beauty in the world around you and yet the devastation in how easily it can all crumble.
As always I am no expert when it comes to poetry but I enjoyed this collection and hope to read more from this author. The poems reflect real life mixed with science fiction mixed with the devastating effects of the nuclear world. These poems continue to haunt me and I don’t think I’ll soon forget them. I’ll leave you with a piece I found particularly powerful… not to mention the author’s poetry shows her amazing talent much better than I could ever put into words.
The Robot Scientist’s Daughter (recumbent)
She lies back on a floor of pine needles looking up at a sky
obscured by crooked branches. But she can’t be back-
this must be a memory, tricking her, her hands on the damp
violets and moss, the sharp shells of acorns a mirage.
If she could, she would once again be part of this wood,
her own cells the building blocks of the next flower,
the next kit fox. Trace elements still exist inside her
that call her to this place, the skeleton of decayed leaves
a reminder that her own skeleton, marrow emptied out,
might emit the same markers, might show
the exact same chemical makeup. When she was young
there were so many daffodils, she could not pick them all-
she ran her hands along their frilled faces, she placed
her face in their clusters and smiled, covered in yellow
pollen. Even the glue of their stems on her hands smelled
like sunshine. One more trick. She lies back,
and remembers perennials that no longer exist.
She will not die here in concrete. Her body belongs there,
in a flower-field tilled under, waiting, vast and empty,
for her to return.