Author: The Salty River Bleeds, The Timbre of Sand, Still Dandelions, A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. Alum: Palomar College, Columbia University, Bennington College. Follow on twitter @SmpageSteve on Instagram @smpagemoria on Facebook @steven.page.1481
This is genuine good writing. This is not a walk in the gew gaw shop of strained emotions and overreaching images. This is writing carved from the raw material of actual living and work. There are narratives and there are lyrics with each word penetrating its subject like the point of a knife. There are good guys and there are bad guys and they are all exposed with a language that flies straight to the truth. “How long did you take to flay those sheep whose skins lie so limply wet in your truck?” Pay attention. This guy, Stephen Page, is going to make some noise in the shining cathedral of poetry.
The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page is a story told in verse about the lives of Jonathan and Teresa and the ranch on which they live. Using both poetry and poetic prose, the author makes the story come to life.
Page’s writing is as gritty as the sandy prairie and he does not shy away from coarse language or difficult topics. Page has created something raw and gritty that is full of local flavor. The reader can feel the heat of the pounding sun and smell the scent of the farm animals. Life on the ranch is hard and oftentimes painful; as such, Page’s writing will cause readers who would prefer to imagine an idealized version of the American West to be uncomfortable. His writing forces his readers to reckon with the harsh realities of life and how we treat the environment.
As the story progresses, the protagonist must deal with both the daily challenges of life on the ranch as well as his own internal struggles. There are no easy answers, and as such, the book leaves the reader with an unsettled feeling. It is this same discomfort that makes the book so powerful and so memorable. I found myself slowly reading and rereading Page’s words as I worked to understand their multiple layered meanings. In the end, Page takes his reader on a journey into America’s heartland as well as into our problematic past. Is there a future for Jonathan, Teresa, and their ranch? Or will the Salty River, along with the rest of the natural world, continue to bleed?
Page’s collection, Salty River Bleeds, is a two-part parable, one of the lives of Jonathon and Teresa and the other of his ranch, its inhabitants, the environ consisting of his cows, sheep, ibis and such and their struggle against the exteriors (man encroaching on them all). Yet, it is also, as he pictures so beautifully, mirrored with Old Man, who through the simple the challenge of living day to day, is a metaphor for it all. Pages’ work embodies very Campbellesque qualities of the myth told within the confines of free verse, epistles, and alternatively spiced with rhyme. Page is not only a mythmaker he is rancher poet-activist who is wise enough to question his place within the tale, that of hunter and farmer, while portraying in stark terms the cost to those around him from his livestock to the earth, air, those who would shepherd it, and those who would seek to profit from it. This is a fascinating read because it does not shy away from depicting the most hideous of things, such as the roof of a truck slicing through a man’s neck, nor does it distance itself from the beauty that is all around him. Yet, Page does not leave it there, because at the end he returns us to his quiet pondering, that of Teresa and Old Man, leaving us with the mirror image for us all and the unsaid question, are we all not walking that same road, and in that are we not all one and the same?
Publisher – Finishing Line Press
Order book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or straight from the publisher.