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'Scalpelling' the Persona with Narrative Poetry in Alex Lemon’s Mosquito - REVIEW

Alex Lemon’s lyrical debut Mosquito (Tin House Books, 2006) is the autobiographical journey of someone undergoing brain surgery and their painful recovery. Provocative, just as they are beautifully bitter-sweet, the poems produce a fervent emotional release from the displayed bodily sensations, all threaded with Lemon’s playful, brazen, and sometimes eccentric voice. Thus, the chapbook presents an unexpected combination I thoroughly enjoyed.

Albeit a poetry collection, Lemon bares his soul (and “golden-tumored” mind) as someone would do in a journal, his language raw and uncensored: “Tomorrow my head opens. If I am still / here, someone let me know what I am.”, he says in “Swallowing the Scalpel”; “I think the veined-cobweb / looks like Abe Lincoln’s profile on the penny” Lemon writes in “MRI” — the imagery is as sharp as the doctor’s scalpel and as “buzzing” as the titular mosquito. Subsequent poems elaborate on his gifted, romantic side, which reveal his yearning for company and understanding, for the simple times of the past. But lovers dissipate in the 'scalpelled' reality of the “hissing machines,” and what remains as a lifeline is none other than his nurturing mother.

Lemon’s use of accessible language is no scaffolding for his witty intelligence in painting with words the complexity of his situation. The titles, too, are a delight, translating as checkpoints on his consciousness’ roadmap, some more straightforward than others: “Fuck You Lazy God”, “The Butcher Dreams”, “The First Day of Spring King of Feeling”. So is the case that a profoundly personal experience becomes a heartfelt narrative for inner and outer empathy.

Pain — emotional, physical, mental — and violence appear as symbols of the past and present merging in the worried state of being, his mother figuring as the keeper of a promised future: “She took / that blood. You can’t smell the singed hair.”, “She squeezed melody / from my bruises” (“The Portrait My Mother Painted from My Mug Shot”). She is the light in his life, the one who fights alongside him, and Lemon’s utter love and adoration, his sincere gratitude, spur naturally, a fighting spirit slowly emerging from within him. The butchers disappear in the void of the past, the earrings-less purgatory too, and the hopeful and magnificent place called home is where a new life (the real life) begins, the pain but a memory left on a page for others to experience.

There are many components that make Mosquito a delightfully jarring but viscerally genuine read. I finished the entire collection in one sitting, the journey a powerful experience which unveiled a new side of poetry I have not encountered until that point. My only negative critique would be in regards to the transitions between past/present and personal, ever-flowing thoughts that were at times disorienting — I would have to re-read the previous verses to find my footing in the events. Still, I would recommend it to everybody trying to get into poetry, especially to those who appreciate unapologetic and strikingly raw writing.


“If you think your life is boring, then you’re boring.” - A. Lemon

My Rating: ★★★★☆



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