Fevered prose and wild digressions mark a poet’s candid memoir of pain and illness.
In 1999, when he was 21, Lemon (English/Texas Christian Univ.; The Wish Book: Poems, 2014, etc.) underwent surgery because of a bleeding vascular malformation in his brain stem, a procedure that caused severe debilities. “Medical clinics and hospitals have become a second home,” he writes, as he seeks diagnosis and treatment for a host of problems: painful swallowing, facial numbness, tremors, leg and back cramps, paresthesia, chronic constipation, ulcerated mouth sores, double vision, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, and exhaustion. “Always,” he writes, “it seems that I’m waiting for the results of a procedure that will tell me how close I am to death.” Added to this list is psychological trauma from having been sexually abused, when was 3, by a cousin who threatened to kill his family if he told anyone. At the time, Lemon writes, he wasn’t sure what was happening or whether it was “really bad. Maybe I deserve it,” he thought. “Maybe a part of me likes it.” Yet since then, he has been burdened by the effects of his cousin’s repeated cruelty. He learns that such trauma cuts the victim off from experiencing sensations and emotions that could be overwhelming, and he struggles, he writes, “to recalibrate my ‘felt sense.’ ” Lemon’s kaleidoscopic, occasionally scattershot chapters offer a collage of dreams, hallucinations, childhood memories, anecdotes about his wife and young son, references to literature, art, and popular culture, and, of course, the state of his body and mind. “Like So Many Nightmares,” for example, begins with his reading Rilke at daybreak and then segues into Jeff Bridges in The Big Lebowski, Rodin’s The Gates of Hell, Freud, Jung, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, and anti-war protests in Minneapolis in 2003. “Knowledge is everywhere in the coming daylight,” he reflects, as his mind swerves and swirls through “an emporium of collisions and adoration” that illuminates for him the miracle of survival.
Although sometimes maddening to read, Lemon’s collision of ideas and images adds up to a celebration of a life unbowed by suffering.