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Exotic Experiences

Review by Rea Keech

Lemons’ book is not an autobiography in any traditional sense, but it provides a record of key moments in the interior life of the author. The pieces were written in different places around the world and depicting times ranging from his childhood to late adulthood. Together they give a glimpse into the mind of a poet who might be called an expatriate even when he has come back home to the States.

The poems are quite moving. It’s hard to know what a poet’s intentions are, but when reading them, I felt an overall sense of mild but stoic melancholy. This is not to say there aren’t touches of humor—my favorite is a two-line dyad: “Wine is for the rich with mistresses/and should be served chilled with lace.” And there is an ironic amusement at the poet’s own life in “The Desk” and “The Party.” Most, however, are brief depictions of (sometimes exotic) experiences, described in vivid detail, in which the poet’s attitude is not directly expressed. In fact, the speaker of the poem is not always the author himself. I find that I keep going back to the poems, each time seeing more in them.

The stories, in a few cases, help in understanding the poems. For example, if you are confused by the poet’s reference to his “hoof” in the poem “The Zugenthyme,” the delightful story “Horses,” set in Iran, will shed some light on the meaning. Lemons is a very skillful story teller. “The Birthday,” for example, presents two approaches to volunteering to work in Iran which represent two approaches to life itself. As with the poems, the stories are not always told from the author’s point of view. Some of the more exciting ones have women narrators. My favorites, however, are what might be called the C.W. Coffey stories: “The Birthday,” “The Lesson,” and—although the narrator is not named—“Horses.” These are the ones that seem most autobiographical. I wish there were more. This is not a book I wanted to put down.