Page’s Writing is as Gritty as the Sandy Prairie

Review: The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page

Length: 96 Pages

Publisher: Finishing Line Press

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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?

Salty, Earthy and Thoughtful

The Salty River Bleeds” by Stephen Page

Review by Aria Ligi

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

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Dear Santa Ana

Dear Santa Ana

by Stephen Page

Today I reconnected your telephone-fax one week after I recovered it from the Cattle Thief, and today I spoke with the elderly lady who let her hogs feed free upon your pasture, the eighty-two year old neighbor who begged with palm held out for kindling from your wood. I told her we would speak about the matter later.

A bathroom is bricking up alongside my matera, my plant-enclosed muse room, my idea room, the place where my desk is, the place where gauchos once stopped to take mate in front of the fire and nap-dream meat, the place where I will never again reluctantly leave to piss my daily coffee intake, the place that will soon be my self-enclosed patrón office, the place where I will administer your affairs.

Yesterday I drove to the neighboring town Lobos, to meet and interview a gaucho for potentially filling the role of capataz, but the man who stepped down from the train with his woman had only one eye, losing the other to a horse kick, and his wife a nurse mind you, with five kids. We drank coffee, spoke, and when the woman smiled falsely, I knew. I smiled, shook their hands, paid for their train tickets, and honestly hoped they would not again disembark nor call.

Last week I put new locks on your gates, and all twenty-five hundred acres of you exhaled as if you had been holding your breath for a very long time.

Today I walked the wood near my new home, my new office, my no longer weekend escape from smog and noise of the city, my no longer escape from teaching and students, my no longer muse room. I sat on a log to contemplate the sapid scent of eucalypti. I zipped up my polar-fleece vest, my leather jacket, donned my rancher gloves and noticed a pileated woodpecker scrutinizing me.

Today I chased away rabbit hunters from lot number eight.

*Originally published on Extracts and later included in “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River,” which is published by Finishing Line Press.

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Dear Father by Stephen Page


Dear Father,

I am so pleased that you have volunteered for Meals on Wheels–a noble endeavor to say the least. The driving around and handing out of containered food must surely keep you busy; which as we both know is something you need to do, especially now, at this point in your life.
Here on Santa Ana it is raining, a necessity for all ranches and farms alike. There always seems to be too much or too little of the wet stuff: cows either grazing in knee-deep water or chewing cud in puddles of dust, wheat like reeds in lakes or corn withering and dropping cracked ears. Last week the soy leaves turned from yellow to brown, a worsening state of bad, and the wind–break evergreens ochred the cow-lot borders. This afternoon, after two hours of steady raindrops the size of acorns, the whole ranch and everything on it seemed to sigh with relief; an almost audible sigh like one you hear in a dream as you are waking. The land has blackened to chocolate and the air chilled to jacket weather. Today’s downpour reprieved a two-month bout of ninety-degree swelter that made ill the character of the entire Santa Ana populace, not to mention tainted much of our cupboard tins and racked red wine.
We start the yerra next week–a picnic for us, as we watch while the gauchos perform. The cooler weather will be perfect for it. In a month or so we sell the calves.

I am sure you are happy that you will soon move to Florida after such a cold Michigan winter. Two months of breath-cracking below-zero is enough to make anyone seek guayaberas and daiquiris on the beach. Retirement will be pure pleasure. No more up before daybreak! No more “thru rain and shine!”

I hope your recovery from prostate surgery goes well. A hobby is in order for you to find, as we spoke about, to keep you occupied. Distracted. Don’t be like your father. Your career is over, not your life.

I trust this letter finds you and Mom well.

With much thought,

Your son, Jonathan

PS The jacket you gave me during my last visit, the bombardier with the shoulder insignia missing, keeps me from the wet and chill. I use it on my wood walks.
This poem first published on Foliate Oak. Read the poem there: http://www.foliateoak.com/stephen-page.html


Stephen Page is from Michigan. He is the author of The Timbre of Sand and Still Dandelions. He holds two AA’s from Palomar College, a BA from Columbia University and an MFA from Bennington College. His critical essays have appeared regularly in the Buenos Aires Herald and the Fox Chase Review. He is the recipient of The Jess Cloud Memorial Prize, a Writer-in-Residence from the Montana Artists Refuge, a Full Fellowship from the Vermont Studio Center, an Imagination Grant from Cleveland State University, and an Arvon Foundation Ltd. Grant. He loves his wife, travel, family, and friends.