(Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2014)
From “big jellyfish, All grown-assed” to “rain-laden / Lilacs,” Alex Lemon’s newest poetry collection, The Wish Book, is filled with everything. In a way, this reminds me of Dara Wier’s newest collection, You Good Thing, which binds together a variety of dissimilar matter. While the contents of both collections are concretely tangible as well as intellectually provocative, in Wier’s book, the results are redefinitions of the world we live in. Lemon is less interested in reinterpretation. Instead, The Wish Book’s vast scope of material pursues equilibrium.
Lemon’s poetry does not seem to contrast the bad with the good. In “The Blowdown,” for example, Lemon writes:
For the deep sleep by snorting
Pepper flakes & slapping
My chest like an Olympic
Swimmer. In whatever time
I have left, I’m going to be
The best disaster I can be.
These lines show us that being a hot mess is not antonymous to greatness. Another example of this pursuit of balance can be found in the title, “Still Life With Birthday Cake & Dynamite.” Somehow this celebration of birth, complete with sweet confections, and this impending, unavoidable death, which is about to blow up in our faces, exist together within one captured moment. This concept that something can be both lovely and horrifying seems to be the thematic core of Lemon’s book, as seen in the couplet that begins the collection: “Let’s go my little paradise, / My little heart attack.” Appropriately, this opening poem is titled “Boundless,” and it sets the tone for the collection.
Again, The Wish Book seems to be about everything—everything but wishes, that is. In “Trust Me Trust Me Trust,” Lemon writes, “The end is coming soon.” He urges:
For the end by wrapping, again
& again, the cat in Saran Wrap.
Booby-trap the yard with spike-
Sharpened wooden spoons. Sit
Like a pretty little lotus, reading
Survival manuals. It doesn’t
Matter if it’s in the basement
Or you’re spear-fishing at the
Bottom of the pool. […]
We survive, and we self-destruct. Perhaps we survive only to self-destruct, or maybe we self-destruct simply so that we might survive. Regardless, there’s no wishing. Instead, we must “drive / With no hands, charge into oncoming // Traffic. Eat those eggs that were best / By sometime last year.” There’s only living, truly living …and dying, of course. And, somehow, these antipodes occur both inharmoniously as well as affably: “Like a vulture, I piss / Down my leg so I don’t / Overheat.”
Call it terrifying or comforting—or both—but “Let Us Get Our Gifting On” demonstrates that nurturing and damaging are, perhaps, not so different after all. And maybe The Wish Book teaches us that this is okay and, of course, not okay, all at once.
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Heather Lang’s poetry has recently been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and published by Cider Press Review, The Del Sol Review, IthacaLit, Jelly Bucket, and Mead. She serves as Assistant Editor for The Literary Review and has reviewed for Atticus Review, Gently Read Literature, and HTMLGIANT.