The Rural Lives of Nice Girls, Poems New and Selected

Reno’s own Poet Laureate, Gailmarie Pahmeier, held an open house yesterday at Sundance Books & Music. Lots of folks in attendance, myself included. Got a chance to meet the poet and have her sign her newest book, The Rural Lives of Nice Girls, Poems New and Selected.

It’s not often I will sit up most of the night to read a book of poetry, but once started, it was very hard to put Pahmeier’s book down. The poems are stories, stories to interest just about anyone, even those readers who generally pass up poetry, “No thanks, I don’t like poetry. I want my lines to go all the way across the page and hey, they could at least have a bit of rhyme.” By the time I’d turned the light off, I’d gone through this remarkable book twice.

Gailmarie Pahmeier is one helluva narrative poet whose stories, told with careful telling, are so open and intimate at the same time there’s not a one not worth reading twice or even three times. There’s a father to die for, one who teaches his daughters way past their mother’s apron and housekeeping skills. Who can resist the poet’s words about a father with only daughters: “Your daughters are a perilous treasure,/ an uncertain pleasure, a certain wish,/ a work to be criminally proud of./ For men without sons there is always this./”

And she remembers, mid-age, the garage sales, antiquing with her lover, “. . .and we’re out to make a home together, to furnish ourselves with a history/ we have no time to create.” These are poems full of comings and goings, family, friends, lovers, and even the cats and dogs that pass through our lives.

See, that’s what makes these poems special, the way they carry each reader into her stories: Disneyland, all dressed up and her mother “. . . with her snap handbag/ full of gum and crackers.” Her dad bought a new 1966 Pontiac Tempest for that trip and “I was proud of that car, its sheer/ American bulk and excess.”

But there’s no excess to Pahmeier’s work. She remembers important things, like “my father’s tanned arm/ resting outside the window, the smell of Wrigley’s gum sweet and utterly/ familiar/ ” What we say in conversations, in gossip, confessions, phone calls, whatever surfaces, as well as what we let go of, all are stories, like Saving Face, a poem about learning of a suicide, a childhood friend, the memory of two girls on one bike, pedaling past porched homes of a dreamed future, when her friend turns to her, “Look! Look at that one! The people in that house could be happy forever/” and she remembers her friend pedaling them “farther and faster/ through tall grass, toward deep woods, and into stone.” “and into stone,” – three words bring death’s finality into shocking focus.

Sometimes my father’s hand shakes, sends fat drops/ of paint to splatter my patio./” In the poem Home Maintenance, the poet tells of the hours she and her father spent in the heat painting her house. It will be their last house-painting together. She knows . . “that he will tell/ my mother about the heat, tell her/ this paint will last seven years at most,/ that he worries about who will help me/ next time, who will work beside me in the sun,/ who will love me in ways simple as sweat.”

Pahmeier tells her stories with a kind of clouded clarity, grabbing the reader’s attention and understanding at the poem’s last lines. The fun of reading these lines (yes, reading poetry can be fun) is their wrap-ups, enticements to go back, read the poem again. Here are a few examples:

What will I tell my children when he is gone?/ He was a quiet man who could make things run.

I’ll write again, I promise you that much.

Maybe we should have had a dog. Maybe/ we’d have had one that always came when called.

If he reads this, maybe he’ll call her. Just think:/ they’d be strangers again, capable of kindness.

I can’t wait to read Pahmeier’s earlier work, but for now, enough to know The Rural Lives of Nice Girls is proof, poetry belongs in the hands of everyone. – Sunny Solomon

Also available by Gailmarie Pahmeier: Shake it and it snows; The House on Breakaheart Road.

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