“A Ranch Bordering the Salty River” by Stephen Page
Reviewed by MM
For someone like myself, who’s merely getting by on a meager income, “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River” engendered a retreat from the social cesspool of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This book relocates the reader to a rustic area, that at first, appears to be a utopia. The woods, leaves, wildlife, et cetera always had a tranquil effect on me. Maybe it also has something to do with the seclusion of inner city culture, where unjustified persecution is commonplace, superfluous and has a tendency to result in spilled blood on the pavement. I’ve realized after the completion of this book, that there’s no escape from societal madness. It’s the consequence of living. The price of admission.
In the poem, “Tree Root” the reader is acquainted with the struggle of being a rancher. “The thing you have to deal with when you have pastures is shit: shit on your shoes, shit on your pants legs, shit on your truck, shit on your hands when you open gates. Shit!” And here I am, complaining about scooping cat shit every other day. Then, as if that’s not bad enough: “My business partner who farms lots of my land, wants to plow away more of my grass, shoot the quail, trap the armadillos, flit away the mockingbird, spray to death the flowers, plant genetically modified soy, sterilize my herd to nothing.” Yeah, I almost got into four fist fights this summer, luckily for me, those cowards capitulated. This poem convinced me it wasn’t a big deal after all.
The poem, “Transformations” is the embodiment of what all the small press poets desperately need: Vacation. “The weight of grass is heavy upon my shoulders; lift it, Scythe it, mow it, let the cattle feed that I may walk again.” To this I say, where do I sign up for unemployment benefits? “I just want to sleep in one Saturday, One Monday.” I’m right there with you, my friend. Gravitating to a mere glimpse of the American dream.
“Flora” exemplifies the repercussions of a man’s unappeased sexuality. “She no longer wanders Wood, but cradles Her child in the bleach of her kitchen. I long to touch Her humus-stained feet, but find them washed and clipped. Disinfectant permeates Her pores and sour milk stains Her shirt.” Measures will be taken when the libido is as strong as a Wi-Fi connection. “What right does She have to bear children? Her duty was to virgin Wood.” You win some, you lose some. I’ve been there with soft hands that smell like lotion.
The ingenuity of this chapbook goes without question. I’m an avid reader and supporter of the underground, I’ve never read a chapbook on the life a rancher. The melancholy vibe of this book is undermined by the splendor of rustic scenery. For every dead calf, there’s a mockingbird. For every devastating drought, a river. For each dilemma, a new trajectory.