Rain on Tin
If I ever get over the bodies of women, I am going to think of the rain,
of waiting under the eaves of an old house
at that moment
when it takes a form like fog.
It makes the mountain vanish.
Then the smell of rain, which is the smell of the earth a plow turns up,
only condensed and refined.
Almost fifty years since thunder rolled
and the nerves woke like secret agents under the skin.
Brazil is where I wanted to live.
The border is not far from here.
Lonely and grateful would be my way to end,
and something for the pain please,
a little purity to sand the rough edges,
a slow downpour from the Dark Ages,
a drizzle from the Pleistocene.
As I dream of the rain’s long body,
I will eliminate from mind all the qualities that rain deletes
and then I will be primed to study rain’s power,
the first drops lightly hallowing,
but now and again a great gallop of the horse of rain
or an explosion of orange-green light.
A simple radiance, it requires no discipline.
Before I knew women, I knew the lonely pleasures of rain.
The mist and then the clearing.
I will listen where the lightning thrills the rooster up a willow,
and my whole life flowing
until I have no choice, only the rain,
and I step into it.
Rodney Jones, “Rain on Tin”, Salvation Blues: One Hundred Poems, 1985-2005.NY: Mariner Books, 2007.
“Rain on Tin” is the final poem in Salvation Blues by Rodney Jones, the last poem we encounter in a collection where we first meet up with that provocative title. Why would salvation and the happy day it famously promises give anyone the blues? That title reminds me of the fortunes of bright-spirited stars in Shakespearean comedy—Beatrice, Rosalind, Portia—who must finally undergo that cultural form’s idea of a happy ending: condemned to redemption, so to speak, despite the best efforts of their wit and charm to educate their future husbands.
“Rain on Tin” opens with a long surprising line about the end of desire—“If I ever get over the love of women, I am going to think of the rain”—which begins to deliver on the first word of the poem’s title. Its last word, however, is never mentioned in the entire poem; “an old house” does all that needs to be done in that regard. The poem’s second line restates or, rather, elaborates on the conditions of thinking this poem establishes to start its meditation on the rain: “If I ever get over the love of women, I am going to think of the rain, / of waiting under the eaves of an old house.” These two lines merely begin the first sentence, but their absence of even a ghost of the standard English line’s iambic pentameter assures us that we are reading “free verse.” A sprinkling of anapests establishes the rhythm of these verses—even a downpour (if that can be experienced in only two lines)—but the subsequent two verses get even shorter than the opener before the first sentence ends. Then the second sentence briefly tells us something about the power of amorphous or irregular form: “It can make the mountains vanish.” The mood is so thoughtful and easy-going, yet the diction and syntax are eventful. “Rain on Tin” is written in lines so it must be a poem, but this eventfulness makes it poetry.
The opening line shares the distinction of being the poem’s longest line with the sixth line: “Then the smell of the rain, which is the smell of the earth that the plow turns up.” Both indicate the sensuousness and yearning the poem puts into words as the heart condition we all suffer from. The poem also tells us when that mood first possessed the speaker: “Almost fifty years since the thunder rolled / and the nerves woke like secret agents under the skin.” When there is thunder, of course, lightning can’t be far behind, but this poem practices patient attention. By its example, we are enabled. We can wait until it delivers on the suggestiveness of that earlier metaphor and speaks of listening “where the lightning thrills the rooster up a willow.”
Those striking words are but another of the glories this poem uses to inspire honesty, in this reader at least, about human finitude and the courage it takes to somewhat understand, and to face, the prospect of the end of desire—its period and point, so to speak. The speaker of these lines invites us to join in his ultimate vow: “I will listen where the lightning thrills the rooster up a willow, / and my whole life flowing / until I have no choice, only the rain, / and I will step into it.”
Lawrence Rhu is professor at the University of South Carolina and author of Stanley Cavell’s American Dream, among other books.