Review from Hollins Critic


Afternoon in the Country of Summer: New and Selected Poems

by Charles Semones.     Nicholasville, Ky.   Wind Publications, 2003.   $14.00

There are the mournful hounds, the hunter's moons, the foxfires flaring up in the hollows like ancestral memory the classic Kentucky topography. Moreover, Charles Semones's Afternoon in the Country of Summer, a compilation that spans almost thirty years, broods with mysticism. His body of poetic work "is a holied landscape, more myth than actual place on any map." He weaves setting with the enigmatic threads of emotional memory and history, creating the bittersweet Kentucky of this lush, admirable collection.


Semones stares back broodingly over his shoulder. He haunts the past of the ascetic Shakers, the past of favored poets and writers, his own boyhood past. Rarely are his poems populated by the living. For all their charm and mystery, his landscapes are tinged with loss. The word "absence" tolls throughout like a sexton's bell. Conspicuously present in their absence are Semones' parents, as in "Full Moon":

My mother left
no ghost, my father sends
no specter as a stand-in.
Their absence slouches on the stairs.

More discreet in its absence is the fulfilled man, a specter of another kind in Semones's poetry Semones himself. The "what could have been" hangs like a miasma above the bottomland, his farmhouse, and even his marriage bed. Repetition of images and words lends a psalmic quality to this collection, as though the poet, unsatisfied with his life, could sing it into glory. But rather than being self-indulgent, his work is cathartic. As readers, we are made to "bell-tongue" our "old hurts" as well. While the sound of his language is rich and resonant, its meanings wash over us like a back hills family curative: rude, pungent, but just right. In the final lines of "Goose Summer," one of the most compact but cleanly rendered works in Afternoon, grief sets in like Indian summer:

No matter what it's called
persimmon weather, second summer,
or whatever
this time of year lunges
at you with its fullness,
with its sad tale that you lose
all that's worth keeping. It goes.

We are made to drink the bitter remedy of loss, to sweat the grief from our bodies the grief of what is gone and the grief of what will inevitably go. Afternoon in the Country of Summer begs to be read aloud. It is the gospel of sorrow. It is bluegrass music. It is a salve for the chill of the theoretical poem.

                                                                                   Jessica Rapisarda