Rain of the Future, by Valerie Mejer. Notre Dame, Indiana: Action Books. 114 pages. $16.00, paper.
The poems in Valerie Mejer’s Rain of the Future are mesmerizing and irresistible, and the translations are first-rate. Mejer delivers a world that is at once familiar and strange, and even before arriving at the series of poems titled “Uncanny,” Freud’s concept of the same name comes to mind. The poems are intimate and immediate, yet they are always on their way elsewhere, or elsewhere turn up again in the here and now. The rain of the future is the rain of the past. It has fallen before, and it will fall again. In these poems, Mejer traces the trajectories of being, vividly painting our spuming selves above a green sea.
“[F]rom the wave, the way,” the first poem in the collection, begins:
In green water I saw your eye and in it I saw that Arabian palace
filled with birds and broken glass.
I copy an address into my right hand
and fill myself with memories of psalms.
A green fish emerges from seaweed as seaweed from a wave
that rises like the wailing wall.
When I read these lines for the first time, I shouted as if I had been wounded and set the book down, waiting for the ache to dissipate. But this ache does not dissipate; it echoes and amplifies. The images in these lines introduce the core of Rain of the Future in concentrated form. Mejer masterfully weaves the color green throughout the collection (which brings to mind Dorothea Lasky’s recent essay about color that appeared in the July/August issue of Poetry this year). In this image, the speaker sees the eye in the water and the palace in the eye, so the place appears from a third realm. The speaker’s voice pulls us close, yet she shows us something far away. Somehow, Mejer manages to make distance intimate. At the end of this passage, she reverses the process, and the fish approaches us, emerging from the seaweed that emerges from the wave. Throughout the book, vivid, fragmented images rush toward us and recede. While the poems primarily present visual images, Mejer also subtly employs synesthesia, as she does in the final simile of this passage, where readers can hear the wall.
Mejer’s poems are “[f]aithful to a world unknown, / a world for us alone, paper-thin, too fragile to speak of.” This is a mostly aquatic world in which “the eye is a country … and the mouth and the skin are a country.” Mejer writes, “The liquid tenants of paradise / aren’t coming back,” so her task is to “trace the trajectory of detached continents.” In the poem titled “Trajectories,” she writes:
I know my core isn’t within me, it drifts upwards
along the receding vertical axis that cats climb to the roof.
It hurts in a place beyond me.
The speaker lives outside of herself or drifts apart. Her “breast … begins to think for itself, / imagining all the nooks where your limbs bend.” The poem concludes:
Ashamed of my hungers
as the hungriest always are,
I let the dampness deepen
the crack in the wall
where trajectories of sentences are scribbled
and with my index finger
I trace into the dust something
that trails away to join the course
of the flow of your blood.
In these lines, the scribbled sentences and the tracing converge into the course of blood. Blood subsumes language. In Mejer’s poems, language gestures, falls like dew on the landscape, burns off like fog, and mimics the movements of being, but it’s always clear that there’s a world beyond words. Taoist philosophy says that one can never name the way; one can talk around it and toward it, but one can never name the way itself. Mejer’s poems seem to dramatize a similar philosophy.
Rain of the Future ends with “Havanarians,” which is the most overtly historical poem in the collection, but the history is made of shards of landscapes and snippets of biography. The history breaks apart and reforms in various combinations. “Everything begins in the island’s element, / in the genetics of its disposition, tongueless in that syntax,” writes Mejer. In this “element,” everything is ordered, but unvoiced. “It is the past progressive,” she writes. The wreckage of a ship gives way to a mythological time “when flags were birds / and the sea a turquoise necklace / on this goddess’s neck.” This island becomes an animal broken by waves, yet it dreams of growing a new skin. The speaker tell us that “the broken seasons pass through it / with the ways of a vulture and eyes of a deer.” The speaker implores Adam to “get out of here however you can.” The poem and the collection ends, “After paradise comes life.” Although paradise is lost, it hasn’t disappeared. Parts of it still haunt our everyday lives, reminding us of what we used to be, and in some ways still are, inspiring despair and beauty.
In Rain of the Future, language is not the house of being; rather, it streams down the rain-washed windows through which we see the world. Mejer’s evocative, expansive poems enchant readers with image after beautiful image until we are swept away in a sea of images, and although the mystery of being never comes fully into the light, we know we’ve seen its shape moving under water, in shadows, in our own bodies, and that’s as close as we can ever hope to get.
Jordan Sanderson grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and earned a PhD from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His work has appeared in several journals, including Better: A Journal of Culture and Lit, Gigantic Sequins, Red Earth Review, burntdistrict and Caketrain, and he is the author of two chapbooks, The Formulas (ELJ Publications, 2014) and Abattoir (forthcoming from Slash Pine Press). Jordan’s critical work has appeared in The Hollins Critic, Heavy Feather Review, and Alehouse, among other journals. He currently lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.