finishing line press

All Our Fare-Thee-Wells by Robert Cooperman

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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The title of Robert Cooperman’s latest chapbook of poems refers to the fiftieth anniversary concert series the surviving members of The Grateful Dead performed in 2015 – a couple of decades after Jerry Garcia had already died. Like the concert, this chapbook is at once a sweet goodbye and an almost palpable blast of memory. Of course, it’s saturated with nostalgia. Cooperman’s previous chapbook, Saved by the Dead (Liquid Light Press) likewise revives the memory of the famous jam band and similarly addresses the fleeting nature of youth.
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The collection begins with the poem, “Ask Amy,” set in contemporary times, the narrator and his wife, Beth, who is an integral part of the whole sequence of poems, reading an advice column question over breakfast, from a woman whose feelings have been hurt by her brother, who plans to attend a rock concert rather than celebrate his sister’s 65th birthday. The advice makes Bob and Beth smile, though not without a passing sorrow over what cannot be recovered.
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“Unless,” Amy replies,
“that gig involves
Jerry Garcia returning
from the Other Side,
your brother has no excuse.”
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The next set of poems takes us back in time, first to Cooperman’s youth in New York and the Dead’s legendary performance at Fillmore East, “all of us roaring for the music never to end, // as all things must.” A suite of four poems set thirty years ago in Baltimore and D.C.’s RFK stadium follows, bringing us to Jerry Garcia’s last days and, almost as a consequence, the end of Cooperman’s youth. “Seeing the Grateful Dead, RFK Stadium, July, 1993,” ends:
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“Jesus, he’s a wreck,” I said,
frightened for a favorite uncle,
though his fingers flew
along the frets, and tunes filled the air,
two years before he went still
and silent forever.
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We’re next taken to that Fare-Thee-Well concert in 2015. At this point, Bob and Beth concede their age has become an issue. “Watching the Last Show Ever of the Grateful Dead: Pay Per View TV” starts:
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Who could afford tickets and a hotel room?
Not us.  So Beth and I settle for live TV
and not a joint or pipe: Beth frowning
on my imbibing, and nowadays, my lungs
rasp like stripped-down gears, after one toke.
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The concert’s a treat, though if we’re honest,
we admit something’s missing: Garcia,
gone twenty years, but still indispensable…
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Just as in Saved by the Dead, Cooperman encounters kids who weren’t even alive when the Grateful Dead were prominent and reacts to their innocent ignorance, reflecting on his own geezerhood. In “The Grateful Dead Dancing Terrapins Baseball Cap,” he encounters such a person in a health care facility, home away from home for the elderly. The poem starts:
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The receptionist at this urgent care center
compliments my baseball cap when I sign in.
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“Thanks,” I smile, despite the urinary infection:
my urethra barbwire every time I piss.
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“We’re everywhere!” I chime the code
to a fellow Deadhead, but she throws a look
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blank as the black boards I’d dusted
and washed, at after-school detention.
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“Jerry Garcia?” the name, in my nostalgic universe,
should be clarification enough.
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“Who?” her young brow’s furrowed, as if considering
the most confusing math problem ever devised.
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 In “A Question in the Buchtel Boulevard Post Office: Denver, Colorado,” it’s a postal clerk who makes him feel his age.
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“Winter Cold,” “The MRI Machine” and “At the University of Colorado Hospital Spine Center” are other poems involving the frailty of age. This final one is about the results of the tests, the X-rays and MRI, the next steps, the next treatment decisions. It ends:
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Still, it’s nice to dream of walking,
even slowly, around the park’s lakes,
and not teeter and tap with my cane,
while listening to the ghosts
of Jerry Garcia and Pigpen
harmonize on an old blues number,
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when my generation believed
its birthright was to stay forever young.
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Ah, youth! But there are also moments of redemption, as when, in “We’re Everywhere,” he encounters a couple of fellow Deadheads at a fundraiser at the university where Beth teaches. In “License Plate,” he notices a car’s vanity plate as he drives through Denver running errands. “GR8ful-1” it proclaims. Bob wants to salute his fellow Deadhead, but the car turns left, and he’s not so sure the driver would understand anyway.
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Better just to savor his plate, of tasting
the delights of once being young,
when we thought music could save the world,
or at least make it more bearable.
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In the final poem, Bob and Beth consider attending a concert in nearby Boulder featuring three surviving members of The Grateful Dead, but they decide against it.
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“Now if Jerry’s ghost were to show up,”
I joke to Beth, “or if the man himself
were still alive, that’d change everything,”
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like all those hopeful sightings of Elvis.
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All Our Fare-Thee-Wells is full of wit and an honest appreciation for a musical act that means so much to Cooperman, and with its insights into aging and the exuberance of youth, it’s a collection anybody can enjoy.
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You can find the book here: ALL OUR FARE-THEE-WELLS by Robert Cooperman – Finishing Line Press

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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. His most recent releases are Ugler Lee from Kelsay Books and Catastroika from Apprentice House.

My Mother’s Transvestites by Tiff Holland

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By Charles Rammelkamp
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As in her 2011 flash fiction collection, Betty Superman, winner of the Rose Metal Press’ Short Short Chapbook contest, the star of this poetry collection is the narrator’s mother. But she’s not the only star. There’s so much else going on in these poems, from reminiscences of a Midwest childhood to fluctuating gender identity to sex, death, marriage and parenthood.
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But the title poem and the prose poem that begins the book, “Hot Work,” both focus on the men who come into her mother’s beauty salon, men who “would like nothing more than to mingle under dryers, nibble donuts, discuss The Enquirer with the other ladies.”  The poem concludes:
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My mother applies the transvestites’ make-up. I feign sleep in a shampoo
chair, sneak peaks at finished products: wingless angels with five o’clock
shadow, tottering in circles between the dryers and the styling chairs,
trying in that small space to learn to fly.
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How like her mother’s female clients, whom Holland shows us in “The Beauty Shop Ladies”:
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They really want to be movie stars
Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford, Vivien
Leigh. They’ve seen “The Women”,
and they like to lounge on the settee-
shaped shampoo chairs while awaiting
their turn as the focus of my mother’s
attention.

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They all smoke in the way
of the rich and famous, holding
Salems and Winstons with just
the tips of their middle and fore-
fingers, close to the filters, calling
attention to their manicures,
the hue of their lips.
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The narrator’s mother skillfully juggles the fragile egos, like a magician. Other poems involving the mother include “Vanilla” (“Still in rollers, cigarette clenched between dentures, / Mom sat at the kitchen table….”), “Resemblance,” which is also about the narrator’s daughter, “Kenny,” “Orange, Brown, Yellow, Red,” “Thanksgiving,” and “The Vagina Tax,” in which she alludes to her mother’s death. This poem also concerns the narrator’s daughter.
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I admit, when the amniocentesis came back
Girl, I suggested murder-suicide: you, me
the Girl in my belly. I refused to birth into
this world another being to make only
seventy-six cents for every dollar
a boy would make.
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The mother appears in others, but this is a nice place to segue to two of Holland’s other potent themes, gender identity and sex. Early on, we get a picture of the narrator as a tomboy. In “Vanilla,” the mother dresses her son up like a girl, and of course the kids on the bus picked on him. The narrator pounded them. In “Flared,” we also read about clothing, and the narrator’s distaste for girlie clothes. “Foundations” which also deals with feminine garb, begins:
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About the time I was trying to decide
whether to have a sex change operation
but before I threw all my dresses and skirts,
my slips and nylons in the trash,
my boyfriend invited me to a fancy nightclub
for New Year’s Eve.
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This poem is neatly balanced by the final poem in the collection, “The Last Dress,” in which the narrator reflects on the last female garment she kept, but only for “wedding or funeral, over / seventy degrees, my / attendance obligatory.” As in the poems already cited and others like “Once I Wore a Red Bikini” and “”Don’t Ask,” the narrator’s ambivalence about gender roles as manifested in clothing and appearances is likewise upfront and center.  The poem – the book! – ends with positive self-affirmation:
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Really, I abandoned it because
I had no where to go in which
I had any reason to be someone
other than myself.
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Speaking of funerals, they are the subject of more than a few of these poems. “Carry On” is about the narrator’s father’s funeral. “Grandma Gone Out of Breeden West Virginia” is about burying her grandmother on the day she turned eight. “Eulogy for O’Toole” is about her mother’s second husband’s funeral. “Elegy for Uncle Bill” is a sweet tribute to a loved uncle, who in some sense still lives on. “In some theories of time, / everything is happening at once.”
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Indeed, the poems in which the narrator re-creates her childhood in Ohio are like this. “Purple Town,” “A Piece of August,” “Yanked” and “Burning Ghost Money in Akron, Ohio” bring the Midwest to life. The narrator married at seventeen to a boy going into the army, and several of the poems address this aspect of her coming of age, such as “Watch, Necklace, Luggage,” which is about the wedding, the reception in the Eagles hall where her Uncle Buddy’s band supplied the entertainment.  “Between home and homesick is the highway, / the Day’s Inn at Cave City, Kentucky,” she begins the poem, “No Need for Room Service.” It’s a poem about escaping from home. The occasion for this poem is not clear, though I like to think of it as the narrator and her husband after the wedding.  “Just past claustrophobia, we slip / from Central to Eastern Standard Time….” A vivid character named Tracy, a sort of “town slut” figure, appears in three of the Midwest poems, including the title poem.
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There is so much to admire about My Mother’s Transvestites, not the least of which is the humor that makes you smile on almost every page, the sympathetic characters, not the least of whom are the narrator and her mother, and the humanity that lies underneath it all.
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You can find the book here: My Mother’s Transvestites
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Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for Brick House Books in Baltimore and Reviews Editor for The Adirondack Review. A chapbook of poems, Jack Tar’s Lady Parts, is available from Main Street Rag Publishing. Another poetry chapbook, Me and Sal Paradise, was  published by Future Cycle Press.  Most recently Catastroika  was released by Apprentice House in 2020.
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The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page

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By g emil reutter
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Stephen Page provides the reader a look into an unfamiliar life in this fictional account of life on the ranch. He tells us in The Legend of Wood:
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We all have our stories to tell.
The weak and the strong, the rich
And the poor, the old and the young.
Which story do you have to tell, and
From which point-of-view do you wish to person?
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Page has a poetic story to tell. He captures the beauty of nature, violence of the ranch, love of a spouse and of course his muse. These beautiful images are from the first two stanzas of this poem:
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Muse in Different Forms:
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I see you walking through Wood,
though your image is ephemeral:
yellow eyes and blood-blonde hair,
linen robe and leather sandals dissolve
as I enter the tree line then solve as suns.
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One day as Teresa and I drive through
Santa Ana’s gates, we see Old Man
shimmering upon the dirt road wearing
a tattered coat, and as we approach him
his unshaven face and he disappear.
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Here we have the beautiful muse, ephemeral, linen robe and dissolving leather sandals, of the old man shimmering upon the dirt road. Simply beautiful writing.
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In the poem Fauna he captures the beauty of nature in the third and fifth stanza with fresh images of rosemary, sough of Delphi’s cloud, bumblebee with red clover tongue and Artemis with sunburnt face and parched lips:
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Rosemary outside my matera window
Scents the sough of Delphi’s cloud
Buzzed northerly by the bumblebee
Brandishing his long red clover tongue.
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And never touching barefoot Delos
Artemis leaned over fresh cut grass
With sunburnt face and parchment lips.
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Page does not shy away from the violence of the ranch as in the excerpt from Cattle Rustler:
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In the shade of the trees next to the chute
you glared at us and unsheathed
your silver facón and sharpened it,
then shaved a calf’s hindquarter
looking for the brand
you knew was not there.
You were calm and meticulous in your shaving
but when Notary whispered to Advisor
that that calf and the other ten
were much fatter than the other calves on the ranch
you jerked your hand,
slicing the calf’s flank, cutting off
any denial.
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He captures the calmness of the shade tree coupled with impending violence of the silver facón, the cutting of the meat of the innocent in a calm and meticulous manner. Yet, here it is without any denial. He returns to nature in the first stanza of the poem, Satellites:
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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.
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The image of tree frogs calling the rain is not one we think of often, but a rancher might. Yet there was no rain, just a gust of wind and scent of water. Hope for rejuvenation.
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In this collection, Page captures ranch life and the woodlands that surround the ranch. In the midst of nature, man’s violence, of rustlers, tattler’s, of gaucho’s he writes of the queen of his kingdom in this beautiful poem:
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Teresa: Translator
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You are the translator of my day.
I fall into your graphite eyes
When we transmute,
I find your hands
The hands of a maker:
Soft and crafting.
I want to caress the curve
Of your lip,
Speak to your breasts.
Become my left ear
And I shall remain my right—
Where we meet we will middle.
The spider feasts
In the web of my thoughts,
And pastures modern
The corners of your culture—
Remove the weeds
Of your socialization.
Idiom me,
Invite me into the woods of your words,
Seat me at your banquet table.
You are the coffee of my mornings,
The mate of my afternoons.
Why do you hide your syllables
Under your tongue?
Don’t you ever question
The power of words,
The meaning of sleep?
Yes, I know you do,
In nightmares—
And in this I second your revival.
The grass grows at night,
And in the heat of mosquitoes,
So let the windflowers grow.
Language me inside Wood,
Ranch me where the city
Has not yet encroached.
Marsh me where the ranch cannot reach.
You are the queen of my kingdom,
That I have so temporally created.
You are the singer of my verse.
Interpret my dreams.
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The Salty River Bleeds is a collection of poetry built in harsh realism, myth, nature and love. Page is a master of his surroundings as he is a rancher. His powerful use of images blended with the reality of ranch life marinates throughout the collection. Get the book, you will be better for it.
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g emil reutter is a writer of stories and poems. His latest release is: Stale Bread and Coffee

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New Release from Poet Stephen Page

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Congratulations to North of Oxford contributor Stephen Page on the release of his new book, The Salty River Bleeds ! 

The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page

Praise for The Salty River Bleeds

The Salty River Bleeds is a juicy tale in verse that draws us into the teeming world of a large Argentinian ranch. This world is populated by herds of horses and cows, nefarious ranch hands, foxes, bees, bats, parrots, carnivorous ants, Andean flamingoes, cattle rustlers, horse thieves, to name but a few of its many denizens. The narrative reveals the complicated web of woes in the life of a land manager, the tyranny of weather patterns, and one man’s battle against the encroachment of pesticides. In this world, nature’s staggering beauty and naked brutality are constantly in evidence. A stallion “learns the phases of grass.” Trucks struggle through “the butter of mud.” Cows can explode with bloat, and rain that the narrator prays will be called down from the sky by the croaking of tree frogs can make or break you. As its title suggests, The Salty River Bleeds is packed with the drama of birth, death and eternal conflict.

–Amy Gerstler, author of Bitter Angel

The Salty River Bleeds is ambitious in its scope and its execution, with a relevance to contemporary environmental issues. Stephen Page deftly combines poetry, prose, and letters…and relies on highly refined, compressed imagistic language and strong character development to tell his tale.

–Jim Daniels, author of Places Everyone

The Salty River Bleeds is a continuation of the story of Jonathan and Teresa that Stephen Page began in A Ranch Bordering the Salty River.  These poems speak of the visceral life of farming on a fictional ranch in Argentina.  Page’s narrative is a journey of perseverance through a physical and psychological wilderness where loveliness and brutality abide together.  Here, the likes of a raw and wet “afterbirth slopped into a steamy pile” leads to the mother straining to “stare at her calf until breath raised its ribs.” Page walks us through vulture-ravaged carcasses into pastures and wood and marsh; walks us into the solace of bees, mockingbirds and “a flock of black ibis” that “lift/and cloud away.” This is poetry told with an unflinching, yet reverent eye.

–Carolyn Welch, author of The Garden of Fragile Beings

The Salty River Bleeds is equal parts parable and fable, examining humankind’s destructive and self-defeating tendencies, particularly with regard to caring for the land human beings and animals rely on. Here where the Salty River bleeds, you will find that Myth swims, Old Man lingers on your peripheral vision only to disappear, and Black Dog follows you into the mythic Wood. On the ranch, you will encounter Tattler, Excuse Maker, and Bad Guy, archetypal figures standing in for all those whose motives are to be questioned. By turns imaginative and inventive, gritty and grisly, gorgeous and ephemeral, this is a book that will linger long after you have finished. There are inherent truths laid bare here that we would all do well to pay heed.

–Cati Porter, author of Seven Floors Up

In Stephen Page’s The Salty River Bleeds, the spiritual journey of Jonathan continues from A Ranch Bordering the Salty River. Looking for a story to explain his life, Jonathan meditates on nature, in particular Wood, a place of testing, a place of mysteries ripe to be discovered, and the people who work his land without reverence.  With an observant eye for detail, Page brings together striking images of the elements of earth and human life that become both obstacles to and medium through which the speaker of these poems understands his world.

–Caroline Malone, author of Dark Roots

Stephen Page’s The Salty River Bleeds is a pastoral and violent account of ranch life. His poetic collection blends agricultural and rustic contention with eco-rural insight and directness. His delivery is candid and un-floral, thus bestowing the music of his perception an energy of seized quotidian acuity. These poems dare the readers to care about the animals, the daily activities of surviving rurally, and the grammar of the land exploited by genetic modified commerce and industrialization. The work invites the geography of natural breeding life to marry the perennial charm of ranch hardship. There, in his work, exists the sensual preservation of humanity, but also diurnal desires. Page’s bucolic poems “may take you to an unlit alley at night” or “sound like buckets of water being poured on the corrugated roof.” Regardless of the rustic tempo his work imbues you, through Page’s percipient, omniscient eyes, we see and hear everything he observes and feels and yearns. Like sheep hides “salted in the transit room” – Page’s work is designed to ambush us, not with the forcefulness or melancholy of existence, but, as seen here, with the authoritative authenticity of his persistent fervor.

–Vi Khi Nao, author of Fish in Exile 

Stephen Page’s The Salty River Bleeds is a collection of connections. Page explores relationships, ethics, and economy through environmental images that ooze the intricacies of farm life. His thoughtful, sensory-rich prose and varied expressions of poetic form delve into the inner workings of losses and discoveries.

–Savannah Slone, Author of Hearing the Underwater 

Stephen Page is a true poetic chronicler of the complex business of ranching, that mythic journey. The Salty River Bleeds is iconic storytelling; a hybrid of poems, letters, and prose. Filled with rich images, “wood walks” and myth finding. “Life takes you into some unplanned territory.” Follow Page and we are “wading into wheat” and “working all week to save the corn.”  The tractor is broken, the fences need mending, but still we are watching and waiting for Old Man walking by the side of the road, the one who never stops. Follow Page into his dreamscape of visceral reality to satisfy a curiosity, an unspoken desire.

–Elaine Fletcher Chapman, author of Hunger for Salt

In The Salty River Bleeds, Stephen Page poetically and unapologetically reveals the real, harsh truths of running a ranch in Argentina. Johnathan’s daily stressors, created by unreliable employees, weather, and Teresa’s greedy son, Damien, find us anxiously watching him “run across pastures with my sword / Raised, looking for someone to decapitate.” Page softens Johnathan’s persona by peppering the pages with love, beauty, mate, and the whimsy of Wood and Myth as “A wooddove pops / its wings as it departs eucalypti mist auraed by / a vanilla sunrise.” The juxtaposition of the hard and the soft leaves us with a longing to know how Jonathan and Teresa’s story ends. The Fauna of this collection proves to be a mesmerizing sequel to the Flora of the initial introduction of Johnathan and Teresa in his earlier collection, A Ranch Bordering the Salty River.

–Laurie Higi, author of The Universe of Little Beaver Lake

The Salty River Bleeds by Stephen Page

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Or Else By Diana Loercher Pazicky

or else

By Frank Wilson

The first poem in this collection, titled “Else” — not “Or Else,” as the book is — explores the implications of said modifier (it can be either an adverb or an adjective). An epigraph reminds us that the word derives from the Old English word elles, meaning “other.” The exploration is anything but academic. “Else,” the speaker tells us, “encompasses the unknown / the alternatives that impinge / upon our constricted lives.” It is “an enchanted island … inhabited by sirens singing, / Where else? Who else? What else?”
A couple of pages later there is “Meditation on the Pencil, While Grading Papers” (Diana Loercher Pazicky is a former English professor at Temple University). “The pencil allows one to reconsider,” the speaker tells us, “stop time and go back, / undo that hasty judgment ….” Moreover,
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Erasers are soft, forgiving,
leave only a faint smudge,
a chance to correct oneself
         before presuming
         to judge another.
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This is whimsy segueing into the humane, and is characteristic of much in these pages, leading one to suspect that Pazicky’s former students remember her fondly. She wears her learning lightly as well. Most of the poems in the second of the three suites gathered here make reference to the gods and goddesses of mythology, though in ways that are far from solemn. “Venus Redux,” the first of these, is really about the speaker’s mother. “Venus had nothing on you, Mom,” it begins. The thought of her mother’s perfect body calls to the speaker’s mind the works of Praxiteles, Botticelli, Titian, and more. But in those she sees “only the memory of your body … as you paraded naked through the house, / and I hung back in the shadows, furious, / knowing such perfection could never be mine.”

This poem comes poignantly to mind when one arrives at the third suite. “Seaside Victorian” tells us that “The house she inhabited / slowly inhabited her. / Memories yellowed, hardened, / like the doilies and antimacassars ….”

“As she sank into solitude / the house acquired breath, /even speech, children’s voices, / and her husband calling her ….”

The “she” in that poem is never named. But we soon read, in “Actively Dying,” that “My mother is ‘actively dying’ / as opposed to passively dying, / which is what the rest of us / are doing every day.”  The speaker elaborates:
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Actively dying really means
the body has staged a coup
against the arrogant mind,
that delusional tyrant
twirling and whirling
his hollow scepter
like a child spinning a top,
who thinks he’ll live forever
until the body revolts,
brings the old fool down.
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“Ashes” makes things even more plain:
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The marble urn is heavy,
its contents weightless.
I unscrew the lid, pour
my father into a bag,
turn my head away
to avoid inhaling the dust.
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That last image seems to say it all, but not quite. “Next I open the wooden box / containing my mother … I empty the box into the same bag.” And then, “I take them / to the bay they gazed at every day /from the windows of our house ….”

All is united — husband and wife, father and mother, daughter and house.

There is a surprising range of thought and feeling encompassed in these few pages, all of it expressed with the sort of clear-eyed unsentimental observation one gets from someone like Basho. Do read it. Or else you’ll be missing out on something really worthwhile.
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Frank Wilson is a retired Inquirer book editor. Visit his blog Books, Inq. — The Epilogue. Email him at PresterFrank@gmail.com

A Ranch Bordering the Salty River

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A Ranch Bordering the Salty River

By Stephen Page

Finishing Line Press 2016 

A Short Review by Diane Sahms-Guarnieri

 A Ranch Bordering the Salty River is a character-driven poetic narrative filled with suspense; cruelty; love of “Mate,” aging Teresa, and adoptive grandchildren; and nature that surrounds cattle ranching and ranch workers/cowboys (gauchos) alike.   There are heroes, including Jonathan the narrator and “The Horseback Vet,” juxtaposed with villains of all sorts, which one is likely to encounter on (Santa Ana and La Limpieza) ranches (estancias) in this realm.  At the “Tree root” Jonathan (a man of many occupations – “I Was a Soldier”) longs not to be the new driven-by- profit rancher, which his “business partner” urges: “to plow away more of my grass, shot the quail, trap the armadillos, flit away the mockingbird, spray to death the flowers, plant genetically modified soy, sterilize my herd to nothing.” But rather, he wants “Transformations” – “let the cattle feed…fields clovered…daily strolls in the quiet of the Wood.  To watch for hours bumblebees work, and lock eyes with the mockingbird.”  Jonathan has this unescapable longing “to return to the wood/To the way it was.”  Stephen Page will take you there and in returning you, too, will be changed.

You can find the book here: https://finishinglinepress.com/product_info.php?products_id=2662

 

Diane Sahms-Guarnieri, a native Philadelphian, is the author of three full-length poetry collections. More about Diane can be found at http://www.dianesahms-guarnieri.com/  & https://dianesahmsguarnieri.wordpress.com/