Rain of the Future by Valerie Mejer (Action Books, 2013) Trans. by Forrest Gander, C.D. Wright, and A.S. Zelman-Doring
Reviewed by Rebecca Valley
In her book Rain of the Future, Valerie Mejer begins underwater. She writes:
“In the green water I saw your eye and in it I saw that Arabian palace
filled with birds and broken glass.
My sun-baked body at the edge,
wind in my lungs, its whistle,
my torn world, my grief,
my soggy passport, my shell with no pearl,
you lift them, delicate cloud, into a liquid world.” (15)
It does not seem to stop raining in this world Mejer creates in her book of poems, a book which melds daydreams, history, memory, and grief. The speaker in the book seems to float through the pages, through landscapes, through dreams, grasping desperately for pieces of an answer impossible to uncover – the story behind a brother lost to suicide at age 43. This is particularly true in the first section of the book, “from the way, the wave,” in which photographs and dreams prompt pangs of grief from the speaker, who is trapped in a world which insists on living. In “Uncanny I,” the deceased appears as a wave of light:
“Something in the bloom of the eye. Something quick, attentive and alive near the rocks. Something blue shifting to green. Something smooth. Something transparent. It was just the transposition of color to specific places, but I knew, without a doubt, it was you.” (23)
Later, it is a photograph that brings a wave of grief, of the speaker and her brother (“the dead one, who flung himself from a window” (39)) on the beach as children. This first section is the sharpest, the moist poignant. It lashes out against death, strikes at it with language and image and memory. There is guilt in this section, and anger – Mejer writes, “For me there was a shortcut: the landscape, / the flock, the girl to be…” (41) as if the speaker had cheated her way into life, into the moment at the end of “The Day of Judgment” when she holds her brother’s death certificate in her hands.
As the book progresses, these waves subside, slowly, as with a rain that gently dissipates as the clouds move overhead. In the third section, “On the Third Day,” the speaker is still haunted by the sea, but the rain seems to have ceased. Still, flashes of biography appear even in this section: “And then you die and all is thought you had never lived. That photograph is a snippet of a dream. You riding an elephant, where did that occur? Or did it?” (71). This section reads more like a meditation, a reminder that we will all disappear, merge again with seafoam (The spume is everybody… even then its bones will disappear…” (79-81)). Here, the language of prayer captivates and holds the reader and the speaker in a kind of abstraction, still wrapped around the finger of death but not held so tightly. While in earlier sections Mejer seemed to speak to the corpse of her brother, in this section she seems to speak to his ghost – something more spectral, and opaque. She writes,
“Everything in you is sea-like.
Not in the distant
nor the deep
yes in the whirlwind
and in the surf,
in the combat of touching
the earth and withdrawal…” (83)
But it is not til the last section, after which the book is named, that Mejer begins speaking to herself. She writes in “In Front of Breton’s Personal Objects:” “It was rained enough for us to be clean and peaceful,” and then later in the same poem,
“In the future it will rain.
Today it rains.
For years the clouds disappeared.
Today the roofs wear water.
Tomorrow I will have died:
That is the rain of the future…” (93).
Still, grief lingers; the ghost of a lost brother, of the sea, a yearning for a childhood in which the dead can come back to life. It is a rain that comes and goes, a reminder of death – as Mejer says, “For years the clouds disappeared. Today the roofs wear water,” a reminder that grieving reshapes, is perpetual, must be carried even after decades of distance.
I urge you to sit quietly with Rain of the Future. To float beside the speaker, through years of memory and dreams and black and white photographs. This is a book that lingers, that lives. It breathes through the drumming beat of the rain.