“Researching” and “The Pain from my Childhood,” poems by Stephen Page, have been published in Last Leaves’ first issue (on pages 78 and 101). Download the .pdf to read the magazine (for free). Check out the whole issue.
Elizabeth Gauffreau’s Reviews > The Salty River Bleeds
It was amazing!
Stephen Page’s poetry collection The Salty River Bleeds continues the story of eco-rancher Jonathan and his wife Teresa begun in A Ranch on the Salty River. In the opening poem, “Jonathan Goes to Search for It at Sunset,” he is still searching for The Myth, but “Once again he is left standing / some hundreds of meters from Wood / because he finds his pants are much too thin / to cross the lots with thistle.” This poem sets the warp and weft of Jonathan’s search for meaning in middle age as the collection unfolds.
These poems are finely-crafted and accessible, with a compelling voice. Page employs a range of poetic forms, including the epistolary ”Dear Nephew” and “Dear Father,” the prose poem “On a Breath-Mist Morning,” and the confessional “Your Violet Hair Ribbon.” I liked how the use of different forms left me a little off-balance as a reader, not knowing quite what to expect–which echoes Jonathan’s life on the ranch.
The conflict Jonathan struggles with is between obligation and personal fulfillment: the compromises we have to make to earn a living and meet family obligations–and the emotional and spiritual cost these compromises can sometimes bring. In Jonathan’s case, the cost is the necessity to harden himself to carry on his constant battle with dishonest and malingering ranch employees. As he notes in “Tattler, Too”:
My armor is intact.
I had reason it keep it on.
. . . .
I have learned to lie and I don’t like it.
I didn’t realize until my second reading that Obligation is actually personified in the introduction to the collection, “Proem”:
His hair is black, as are his eyes, beard, suit, and tie.
He holds a folded newspaper under his arm.
He smiles at the Beauty of Ranch.
I read A Ranch on the Salty River, immediately followed by The Salty River Bleeds. I would encourage other readers to do the same. The first book introduces us to Jonathan and provides glimpses into his thoughts and desires as he works the land in a foreign country to make a living. The Salty River Bleeds gives us his dark night of the soul. Will Jonathan emerge from his dark night to live in Wood, where he belongs? The penultimate poem of the collection, “The Salty River,” provides his vision of “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.
However, the closing poem of the collection, “Ennui: Old Man,” suggests not:
I never see him stopped.,
sitting down, or drinking coffee
in a truck stop.
He is always walking,
For me, the best poetry is experienced viscerally first. It then resonates to the heart and continues resonating until it reaches the head. This is just how I experienced The Salty River Bleeds. Jonathan stayed with me for days after I finished reading the book. Kudos to the poet!
Thanks to the poets for contributing to The Pandemic Issue #6 from North of Oxford and Mary M. Michaels for graciously providing her art. In order of appearance we present: Henry Crawford, Megha Sood, Sheila Allen with Emily Jensen, Kerry Trautman, M. J. Arcangelini, Stephen Bochinski, Christine Riddle, Maria Keane, Marko Otten, Patricia Carragon, Jonel Abellanosa, Stephen Page, […]North of Oxford – The Pandemic Issue #6 — North of Oxford
I am sitting in our dull-gray
Pathetically petite rental car
With the cracked windshield and tiny
(Last Friday Teresa smashed our sleek
White SUV that drives like a yacht
Gliding over calm waters)
Alone, my mask around my neck,
Waiting for my her
To finish grocery shopping
(Only one family member
Is allowed entrance at any time).
When will I ever learn?
I have been here before,
I have been here before,
I have been here before,
Thousands of times
(Though mostly before the mask),
Hungry, thirsty, hours
Worrying if maybe she had fallen,
And medics are attending to her,
(I don’t have my phone, and she left hers
With me to hold onto)
But knowing that most likely
She was wandering inside the clothing stores
Inside the shopping mall
That just reopened,
Only to know, that as I don my mask and enter
A hunting/fishing gear store that opens
From the parking lot, that she will
Reappear outside as soon as I enter,
Looking for me,
Searching the parking lot
For me and our ugly rental car.
I purchase a camouflage backpack,
A 9 mm pistol, a hunting knife,
and a hand-size stun device.
I stuff the three defense/attack components into
The outside pocket of the pack,
And as I exit the store,
There she is, wandering the lot,
Her arms stretched, her shoulders hunched, holding
Bags filled with things
Only she thinks we need,
Having no idea that she is late
For an appointment with our lawyer
Concerning the accident, or that I
Had been waiting for hours.
I am past starvation and dehydration,
But I smile behind my mask
As I walk toward her.
I gently lift the packages from her surgical-gloved
Somehow I forgot to post these. Here they are, 5 poems from Stephen Page that were first published on Poetry Pacific and later published in “A Ranch Bordering The Salty River” and “The Salty River Bleeds”:
Hi. I thought this might construe to ‘hope’ regarding the current global crisis.
a male cardinal
passes a seed to its mate
by Stephen Page
thanks to Caroline Skanne, Editor
hedgerow: a journal of small poems #123
#123—the spring print issue is here! : https://hedgerowhaiku.com/…/123-the-spring-print-issue-is-…/
Caroline Skanne Hedgerow: a journal of small poems Stephen Page
Stephen Page’s Literary Representative recently passed through the City of Rock, Motown, birthplace of the U.S. car industry. She managed to find a home for “The Salty River Bleeds” in the following places:
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?