If you are fortunate to live long enough, regrets will inevitably pile up, and the list at the end of your life might be longer than you expected. You might experience heartache for someone you once loved. You might lament that trip abroad you never took. Or you might simply wish you would have spent more time doing things rather than pondering them. In Christopher Citro’s sophomore collection, however, we witness a speaker that comes to terms with his regrets in real time, but with robust language, witty associations, and an always honest tone that can oscillate quickly between humor and tragedy, If We Had a Lemon We’d Throw It and Call that the Sun compels readers to remember that every moment, regardless of the potential outcome, should not go uncherished.
For Citro, the seemingly mundane is actually more important than meets the eye, if only because it opens the door to look at things for what they don’t pretend to be. In “It’s Something People in Love Do,” the speaker examines his love life and what can be done to move past the need to ascribe symbolism to things where it isn’t necessary:
I’m not saying we should watch fewer old movies.
What I’m saying is maybe everything’s not
a metaphor for trying to pay the bills on time.
I love your credit scores. It could pin my credit score
to the late summer soil and pee on its head.
My credit score would roll over and take it.
But what do you think of that chicken dinner
I made last night, how caramelized the thighs,
the bourbon from a plastic jug. How beautiful
that farmhouse looks passing by in the distance.
According to some statistics, financial issues amount to just around 30% of divorces, and the speaker realizes exactly where their finances stand. There is no doubt that their partner has a better credit score than he does, and while there is a time and place to dwell on this (to ensure that their financial woes are ironed out), the speaker doesn’t want to lose sight of the fact that they must live in the present, that spending time always worrying about “paying the bills” will lead them to missing out on growing their relationship (watching movies, eating dinner, enjoying the view on the ride back home). It is often the small moments that have the biggest impact, and for Citro’s speaker, the beauty of the present will always be more important than the worries of the future.
This is not to say that worry doesn’t have a place in Citro’s collection. Perhaps the biggest concern is how meaning should be made and expressed throughout one’s lifetime. While religion might give comfort to some, the speaker in a poem like “At First It Buzzed Then Even the Buzzing Stopped” merely has the facts that are in front of him, and sometimes it isn’t as reassuring as it is meant to be:
How can I fix this garbage disposal
I dropped a quarter in two years ago?
I switched it on to see if that would help.
It didn’t. A star just switched on
at the edge of a collapsing dust cloud.
Life is what happens during
the period between birth and death.
Thank you, scientists, that’s a big help.
If there are two things all people have in common, it’s their birth and their eventual death. A will always lead to B, but what exactly we should do between these points will never be answered in a manner that will satisfy everyone. The speaker was under the impression that science would have provided the answers he was looking for (how to be a good person, how to live a meaningful life, etc.), but the purpose he was looking for never became clear, and we can assume—with the sarcasm at the end—that any claim to substance never lasted long enough to provide a true sense of belonging. Couple this with the feeling of regret that is experienced throughout the collection, and the title poem becomes all the more relatable, regardless of one’s religion or science:
I tried to start my life out right and still
lost track of where I was going. Example,
I picked my college because my girlfriend
went there. She slept with my best friend.
I went there anyway. That determined
the course of the rest of my life.
How many of us sacrificed a future endeavor in order to be with someone? How many of us thought that our lives would turn out different because we were certain that we had found the person we were meant to be with? We often do things at the sake of prioritizing ourselves, and the speaker is quite aware that his choice to follow his high school girlfriend was anything but wise, especially considering her infidelity. We can take a microscope to all our choices with the benefit of hindsight, but what Citro’s speaker is warning us here, at least implicitly, is that one action need not determine the entirety of future actions. We can decide to go elsewhere, and even though past actions still might sting, we have, for the most part, the ability to forge a new path toward happiness.
Nowhere is this idea more pronounced than in “Bring Me with You”:
I looked at my ass in the large living room mirror this morning
and thought Youth has left me spinning slowly to a stop
in the mud rut of a country road on the way to someplace
locals dump dead refrigerators. I need to stop talking
to myself and start exercising more. We begin by finding
the power walkers unbelievably silly and end by wondering
where we could get away with it without our friends seeing.
Where there is humor there is always a hint of seriousness, and once we get past Youth’s indifference to the body, we see the speaker’s true feelings about how he views himself and the steps he can take to become who he wants to be. There is probably a good chance that you or someone you know has viewed their body in a negative light, and while the speaker is not necessarily advocating a completely radical shift in lifestyle, he is professing that something must give. The first step in any type of change is accepting that you will feel uncomfortable at first, that you will think that everyone is scrutinizing your every move and laughing at how poorly you are executing that change. But what might appear silly at first eventually becomes habitual, and knowing this is undoubtedly a form of empowerment, one that although is not fully realized, is still important enough to begin a transformation.
It’s difficult to experience a collection like Citro’s with just one reading, and even after several, everything If We Had a Lemon We’d Throw It and Call that the Sun has to offer might not be digested in full. But this is precisely why a book of this nature is important; it invites us to return with the open mind we left with, and with a consistently direct, inquisitive, and playful style, we see the value of living a life where the past doesn’t have to be mourned.
Esteban Rodríguez is the author of six poetry collections, most recently Ordinary Bodies (word west press 2022), and the essay collection Before the Earth Devours Us (Split/Lip Press 2021). He currently lives in south Texas.