The flakes of gold embedded in the cover of Rain of the Future remind me of the couple months since I got the book in the mail for review. A solid, not-quite-perfect moon hovers over a landscape of blackness dotted with what could be stars but, given the title, is probably rain. Future rain. A lot has happened. I won’t go into it, but I used to be in a relationship and now I’m not. So Rain of the Future, which I was reading during the most difficult days, has crossed over with me.
One thing I notice upon looking at these poems after a month away from them is that they seem more material now. That was one of the difficulties I had on first reading Mejer: the connections between the free-floating surrealist images that comprise most of her poems were just a little too loose for me to have a handle on each poem as a whole. I felt unmoored, which I think is part of the intended effect of Mejer’s poems—a feeling of flailing in a black night (see again the cover) held together by the very minimal relief of the types of ethereal images that pass through the barely waking mind. For example:
Nothing’s in the nest. No thread. No web of words.
Maybe something like my navel, the eclipse of a magnifying glass.
A slice, mute with regard to its empty depths.
This sort of loose association makes more intuitive sense to me now. Such images felt a little empty to me before, listed, invested with less significance than they perhaps deserved. After some intervening time and the associated life events, the shrug of “Maybe something,” the continual stabs at ascertaining what is in the nest in “Parenthesis,” ring more true. The poem ends without quite settling on what is or is not in the nest:
In the space, something, yes. A piece of cloth. Sounding like flags
taking wing, a worm in its beak and suddenly, eyes, my eyes
which, cutting across the empty air, direct themselves at something noiseless over there.
Much of Rain of the Future seems to take place over there. The images and the poems themselves seem somehow dislocated, in exodus, struggling back toward a home country that can’t quite be named.
Of course there’s great variation in Rain, which collects pieces from four different books over the course of Mexican poet Valerie Mejer’s career to date. My favorites were the selections from On the Third Day, which consist mostly of very short prose poems that are easier to grapple with than their lengthier counterparts. Here’s a beautiful one called “Ascension”:
Mary Magdalene comes up over the trees. The silhouettes turn toward her scent. Iris and firewood mix with the air. Blue, she gains altitude. Very soon her crossing will be completed. In the heights her breasts point West. I open the door. I follow the perfumed path.
Poems like this combine all of Mejer’s best instincts: a strong and desperate image center, a compelling redefinition of the relationships between sentences, and a stark matter-of-factness that makes her poems both mysterious and mysteriously forceful at once.
The Spanish originals on every left-hand page only sharpen the presentation of Mejer’s gifts. While the translations provided by A.S. Zelman-Doring, Forrest Gander, and C.D. Wright seem to be spot-on in terms of their literal interpretation of the poems, I’m not sure it’s possible to represent the glaring music of Mejer’s words in English. Take the first sentence of “Uncanny III” for example (Mejer uses the original German word “Unheimliche” in her title, since Spanish doesn’t have an exact equivalent):
On the sun-blazed side of the animal’s head, there was a fly.
En la cabeza soleada del animal había una mosca.
I hope I’m not fetishizing the exotic when I say that the Spanish version is far and away a more beautiful, striking portrait of this quietly sinister scene. I mean, of course this is the case: translation has always been nothing more than translation. Which is why I appreciate C.D. Wright’s and Action Book’s inclusion of the original text. In cases where I wasn’t sure just why a line said what it said, the Spanish version often seemed to provide an implicit justification, just by its sound and syntax, for the content of the line.
Rain of the Future as a physical book is a great big comforting thing. It is sumptuous, almost the size of an 8.5×11 piece of paper, with lots of white space, especially accompanying Mejer’s shorter poems. (Example: Spume: scatter shot clouds. That’s a whole poem, a whole page, two if you count the facing Spanish translation: Espuma: balazo de nubes. A number of poems from On the Third Day revolve around the mysterious concept of the spume, which I like. It’s a sort of identitiless specter that haunts those poems, a symbol of the unsayable that is nonetheless manifest.) I took this photograph of Rain situated underneath a lamp in my girlfriend’s room before we parted ways. It’s a little difficult to look at now, but this is how I believe the book should exist, underneath a lamp, next to a pair of scissors, its cover lifted open slightly as if it is calling out:
I’m not one for buying books these days, not as much as back when I had to own everything I read. But this is a book that you should buy, and own, and leave lying around so you can open it at random and read passages aloud to people.
You have no native land. You have not seen Ithaca.
Neither has Rain of the Future, and it’s goddamned proud of it.