Mary Rose Boehm's The Rain Girl
In Mary Rose Boehm’s collection, The Rain Girl violence lurks within the emotional landscape. Whether the speakers in these poems are in Europe, or America, or in the imagination, Boehm’s The Rain Girl looks conflict in the eye. Told mostly in first person, the collection’s speakers are varied across the five sections of The Rain Girl, and Boehm pulls the reader through European villages and in and out of family dynamics, often told from a persona.
The opening section, The Collector, a dark cycle of poems that reflect on patriarchal strictures on female agency, one that is gothic in nature, both in its chthonic subtext and its earthy imagery. The section gets its name from a later poem about a creep recording prostitutes breathing, and through this Boehm clearly frames patriarchal attitudes regarding woman: objects to be fetishized, collected, passed around, discarded. The opening poem,” A Marriage” is a surreal depiction of the child bride as the other in a house without a “roof” and wild with tumorous growths of mushrooms and fungus. Nightmarish and fairytale-like, the section mirrors a world where young women are the prey. This echoes and harmonizes with the third section, “The Old Gods”, which also hums with a European folk ethos that appears like rainstorms throughout The Rain Girl. Though the anger in this opening section seethes, by the section’s end the speaker has aged, and in that age knows that our imaginations are our “On our softest cushions”, our biggest defect likely to show up across our life, and recognizes human folly in love. People make stupid decisions and are trapped by them.
The second section, “Instar” focuses its eye on growth, but is also an exploration of tension. The entire section is sprung with low-grade violence by Boehm’s alliteration. In “Trans Sylvania or Beyond the Forest” Boehm remembers a time when friends threw stones at Bosnian refugees crossing the mountains, however by the end of the poem the same hatred is spewed at African refugees fleeing war and climate change. Throughout the section, danger lurks unnoticed, unseen. In “When Nothing is Left“ a woman and man lose their physical density, or mass, until the wife one day “grabbed his reflection,/walked out through the garden”. Told in a matter of fact voice, the poem, through an act of imagination both describes a failing relationship and life as a struggle, conflict.
In the third section, “The Old Gods”, Boehm’s speakers remind that the old ways include the wisdom children inherently offer up to older folks in the form of declarations, adventure, or in questions. Here, in this landscape, Boehm’s speakers have come full circle. The section’s dominant motif is the dragon, one that turns up over and over as Boehm explores family and myth.
If Boehm’s wilderness rises up in the first three sections, then Random, the fourth, is her meditation on domestication and the work of family, and loving people who hurt you. Or, at least learning to love those toxic to our emotional health, perhaps best exemplified in “Random” when Boehm writes, “why can’t we love/our kids on purpose?” .Love isn’t pretty; one of the earliest lessons learned in the big bad world, and Boehm weaves these moments in and out of poems about fathers and mothers and daughters and sons. One of the more surprising moments in the section is the ending of “At the Oyster Bar” where the speaker, sitting alone is forced to be in the same room with a stranger, a man, “looks at him./Wants to open his mouth/with the knife but fears/ finding a pearl.” A predatory danger lurks throughout The Rain Girl, showing up Boehm’s short narrative lyrics
The final section, “It’s a Wrap”, finds Boehm gazing upward, to the stars, but also outward towards human folly, and towards entropy as the speakers discover age. It’s also a section that builds towards a journey to the Amazon, which serves as a kind of hallucinatory and invigorated turn from rot towards growth. In this manner, Boehm sews up The Rain Girl. In “Delirium in the Amazon” the mushrooms from the collection’s opening poem returns, this time, interwoven with a fever dream “ fiery eyes still being shaped by the glassblower.” Here, towards the end of the collection, there is an impulse towards nature, towards connection to larger energies or forces, not quite spiritualism and not quite mysticism, but something between. In “Summer Trance” the speaker becomes part of the landscape, spiritually, “I become a green, languid/animal, a soft giant with giant eyes, become/green love”. Boehm reminds the reader that nature is our first teacher. There is a pattern to learn, the “skeletal trees/naked black against pale grey” wait for us all.
The Rain Girl’s tension bubbles up from the ground. Rooted, it’s a sensuous, mysterious collection. But, its also sometimes angry, and rightfully so, and is ultimately a hopeful collection, one energized by the surrealness of a moment, by the surrealness of a life.
Stephen Scott Whitaker is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. His poems have appeared in Fourteen Hills, Revolute, The Shore, Crab Creek Review, and others. Mulch, his novel of weird fiction is forthcoming from Montag Press.