Review: The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page
Length: 96 Pages
Publisher: Finishing Line Press
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?
“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
Order book on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Goodreads, or straight from the publisher.
“Your Violet Hair Ribbon” by Stephen Page
Last night you slept with your head on my chest,
My nose in your hair.
While I dozed the violet ribbon upon my wrist
Broke and fell off. This morning I searched for it
But could not find it, anywhere. I tied a new one
To my ankle. Hid another in my journal cover.
Did you have the same dream I did last night,
You with your head on your husband’s chest,
My wife with hers on mine?
madswirl editor’s note: A ribbon of deception; identities mistaken, lovers mismatched. So hard to awaken… – mh clay
To read MORE mad poetry, visit http://www.MadSwirl.com!
As published on MadSwirl
And included in the book, “The Salty River Bleeds,” by Stephen Page https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-salty-river-bleeds-by-stephen-page/ and published by Finishing Line Press.
issues 45-46 combined: http://swpoetry.weebly.com/english-section.html
Page uses his poetic verse to create a cowboy legend.
— Read on poets.media/a-universe-within-verse
Congratulations! We are delighted to inform you that your piece “In the Room of the Dead” has won the first place award in Poetry for the 2019 Bravura Literary Journal.
As a recipient of this award, please understand that this is an incredible accomplishment. From the competitive pool of over 500 submissions, not only was your piece selected for publication, but it also earned the esteemed honor of taking first place in its category.
Congratulations on Your Momentous Achievement,
2019 Editors of Bravura
the literary journal of Palomar College
Below is the link for the digital issue of Noctua Review. Check it out!!
With a poem on page 37 by Stephen Page, entitled “Parrot Plague,” which by the way, will be included in a book by Stephen Page to be released later this year.
(Photo of parrot courtesy of 123RF)
(Cover and bird super mobile courtesy of Noctua Review)
With a poem by Stephen Page in Volume 13 (2018) — Read on www.sfcc.edu/santa-fe-literary-review/literary-review-issues/
Download the .pdf or ePub to read issue 13 (2018)
Special thanks to Kate McCahill, Nancy Beauregard, and Serena Rodriguez
Except from poem Teresa: My Mask of Day —
“She unwraps and pirouettes before me, holds out her arms,
clasps my hand, ballrooms, tangoes:
She jumps up and down upon the dry earth,
raising dust to form a rain cloud.”
I was standing on a grassy hill
overlooking The Salty River
that winds and flows
along Santa Ana’s North-Western border.
The sun was about to set
and the star was turning orange.
The Ponies and The Calves were leaping about
as if celebrating the survival of another day.
The corn was knee high, and the wheat fields
were shorn to short stalks that looked
like the three-day blond stubble of a recently shaped beard.
Birds were chirping and singing
like they too were reveling in the End.
The Cultivators were nowhere to be seen,
their noxious machinery fumes and pesticides
not clouding the air or poisoning the Earth.
The Gauchos were all in their homes
with their families, eating, or drinking mate.
Just as the sun disappeared over the horizon,
The Pink Flamingoes in the river hued red.
editors note:To look upon a scene; to be the scene; the scene in you; belonging… – mh clay
When Jonathan turns off the highway the mud
in the road is a foot deep. He clicks his vehicle
into 4-wheel drive and creeps forward in first gear
so not to slide into one of the ditches. The white gates
of his ranch are open, El Misionero standing next
to them. He rolls his window down and sighs. The air
smells green. Green. Green.
He drives to his office and talks with his capataz,
then they climb in the ranch pickup to go see a calf
cadaver. It was born early that morning with a curled-
neck deformity, and unable to reach its mother’s tit
or the water trough, it just stumbled around awhile and fell
on its side. The gauchos had skinned it and the vultures picked
it mostly clean, the eyes plucked out, the tongue sliced in half,
bits of intestine lying next to the spine, the heart and lungs mush
under the gristly ribs.
They drive to the Yellow House casco to see a pony cadaver.
Apparently, last night it leaped the fence around the
swimming pool and fell in the water. It lay on its side
on the grass where the yardkeeper placed it, its legs
stiff in the curled positions of swimming, yellow froth
tubed out of its nostrils. It was only three-weeks old.
Jonathan goes for a long walk, alone — he admires
the greening grass, the knee-high wheat, the sprouting corn,
the blooming chamomile, the calves and ponies leaping about
pastures spotted white with egrets.
He hears bees buzzing, mockingbirds singing —
and he keeps walking, walking; walking
past the pastures, past the Wood,
until he enters a fallow field.
As he approaches a small marsh
a flock of black ibis lift
and cloud away.
editors note:Like any week, we walk through cadavers to stand free. – mh clay
The weight of grass is heavy
Upon my shoulders; lift it,
Scythe is, mow it, let the cattle
Feed that I may walk again.
I sit upon a log in the shade
Of Wood. I sip mate.
I visit Buenos Aires and lie
In bed all day and watch cartoons.
I just want to sleep in
One Saturday, One Monday.
I want the Field Crossers
To stop trampling the grass,
To stop walking across my back
When they think I am napping:
Don’t they know the padlock turns
Are all numbered and recorded?
Editor, Advisor, stop planting corn
When I want my fields clovered.
I want again my daily strolls
In the quiet of Wood,
To watch for hours the bumblebees work
And lock eyes with the mockingbird.
editors note:Clover over corn? Yes! (This poem is a fine one of the mad many included in Stephen’s new collection, A Ranch Bordering the Salty River, published by Finishing Line Press. Get it here.) – mh clay
The tree frogs called the rain last night,
but the rain did not answer.
The intermittent croaking, about
every hour or so, was followed by
a gust of wind and the scent
of water, but no sprinkle, no pour.
The new gaucho, an angelic Moral
who rides our horse to sores,
has dried the soy beans not yet
planted. He horns the sun and peels
paint from his home.
Twenty millemeters of rain is not
forty nine, even with the north
wind. Two plastic gauges announce
the Tattler’s arrival in the park.
The newer gaucho, taller, broader
shouldered than the Angel
shunned away, suffers the sun
of unshaded twenty-one with
a smile and shovel-blistered hands
(but later became the Excuse Maker).
Just one day of the computer-
promised rain should soften the earth
and shoot the canal
full of internet cable, that is,
if the flexible orange pipe is found
With each truck that passes lot
three, earth crumbles and narrows
the road. We hope that the Three
barricade that which blackened
and thinned the cows.
I will the odometer to quit
increasing exponentially, and the bushes
Teresa planted not to yellow near
editors note:Atmospheric conditions unaffected angelically. (Congrats to Stephen on the imminent release of his new book, “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River.” Learn more about it and reserve your order here.) – mh clay
Friday, September 7th, 1 a.m.:
It begins to rain heavily,
the sound like barrels of water
being poured on the corrugated roof.
Jonathan locks his office door
and settles into his reading chair
to read a bit and sleep.
Just audible above of the sound of water
he hears something else,
like someone rattling
the door handle.
He looks up but the handle is not moving.
Then . . . Bang!
the door caves convexly in,
shakes on its hinges . . .
Bang. Bang. Bang.
Jonathan is on his feet
in the middle of the room,
an antique branding iron
held in his hand
like a club.
(You see, Jonathan has read often
in the local papers
of similar incidents:
“In the middle of the night
a rancher robbed and beaten for cash
in his office.”
“A rancher and his family
robbed at gunpoint in their home
by three ex-convicts hopped up
Not that Jonathan couldn’t take care of himself, but)
The door bangs and shakes two more times.
Jonathan thinks that his shotgun
might be a better weapon,
and just as he turns to retrieve it,
lightning flashes through the skylights,
blueing the entire office,
his ridiculous shadow twice
on the floor,
and almost simultaneously,
thunder cracks and rumbles away.
Jonathan drops the branding iron,
unlocks and opens the door,
and in leaps
and muddy and panting,
shaking water everywhere.
Dominic never liked thunder.
editors note:Dog from desperado, transformed in a flash. – mh clay
I saw a dead body today.
I did not see the head.
I was on my way back from La Limpieza,
driving the route the Walking Man walks
I was thinking about the Advisor, the Bad
guy, the Tattler. I was coming around
a dangerous curve, a curve where I have
witnessed the aftermath of many an accident,
skid marks, trucks turned over, logs spilled
onto the road, cars with front ends smashed
in, windshields shattered. Coming around
the curve I slowed down then stopped
for a white-gloved policeman with his palm
held out. My white truck reflected
in his sunglasses. There was a dark blue
pickup behind him. I waited while the traffic
passed from the other direction. The police-
man then waved me forward, his lips and chin gravely
set. I tapped my toe on the accelerator, hoping the cop
would not notice that my seatbelt was unfastened, and drove slowly
past the dark blue pickup. The cab was caved
in, the passenger door open. I saw a man, no,
I saw a body wearing a blue plaid
shirt and blue jeans, the right arm
extended, the hand still gripped
to the gear shift. The crushed cab roof
formed a vee that inverted
directly into the middle
of the body’s shoulders,
right where the neck should be.
There was no blood, but
I did not see the head.
I saw a dead body today.
I did not see the head.
I was thinking about the Advisor, the Bad
Guy, the Tattler.
editors note:You won’t take with you head nor toe. When it’s time to go, you go. – mh
With your sharp silver facón you shaved
the calf’s hindquarter, looking for the brand
that you knew was not there,
and it was only the notary’s whisper
about the calf’s fat healthy appearance
that jerked your hand
into blae confession, slicing off
your black denial, drawing
“Three,” you said, “three calves”
you lost, with fingers upheld,
even though we found eleven
that had to be returned to the neighbor
whose ranch horsed the bearded cohort
who probed me with questions of origin
to discover what substance made
this stoic face and wide-set stance.
Your penned renouncement only papered
when Teresa waved her hand and said
“enough, enough bloodshed; we gave
you our trust which you stabbed then twisted it
deep into my pelvis which will never again birth
confidence in your bull-brown eyes.”
editors note:A short scene; cattle wars and the politics of trust. Someone goes hungry… – mh
The green guias are paid for.
The seven thin cows
and seven spine-warped bulls
are about to vanish
from our virid pastures.
The Accomplice skipped work today.
He did no show his olive face.
I guess he became weary
of shoveling hen-house shit.
We set his horse free.
My truck wheel fell off:
after driving sixty kilometers
at one hundred thirty kilometers per hour
I turned off the highway upon a dirt road
and felt the thump.
The two calf-killing stallions
were boxed in crates
and although the Calloused-Hand Curator
displayed coins in his palm
I did not offer the star-marked colts.
The Malingerer extended his sick-leave:
I loom patiently outside his locked window
with a hammer in my hand;
I remove rusty animal traps
from the moonlit afternoon.
In town I errand tools and supplies
and take a coffee-break at El Café Local,
The gossip at the table behind me
is that the Rustler was seen at the stationer—
that his pen had run out of ink.
editors note:When those guidelines indicate the end of famine or the imminency of thieves (which?); when all the usual suspects have fled the scene (where?); it takes a good cup o’ joe to clear the head. – mh