From the Bone
Review by Roy Beckemeyer
The prairie is in Melvin Litton’s bones:
“Stand before the setting sun then to the far horizon turn
and face the colors fading from winter’s withered sky.
Winter prowls these lonely hills, snow disguised and
hungry, howling bluff to bluff over tufts of grass, brittle…”
(from “Land of Long Shadows”).
He is also a song writer, musician and singer, and by reading those lines aloud, you can feel his innate knowledge of the rhythms of the land as they roll off your tongue.
But Litton’s skill set doesn’t end there; he is also a novelist and his innate feel for narrative also buttresses his poems, his use of imagery enlivening the tales he tells:
“…along the night shores of
Edmonton, Alberta. I stayed the whiskey season then
…mined California all over;
I found that Kansas has the softest loins.”
(from “Country Singer”)
On of my favorite poems in the book, titled “Harvest,” seems to me a quintessential rendering of prairie farming and prairie people:
“Of my first memories I nap on a gunny sack
lain over a wheat-stubble mattress, curled up
against a crock jar filled with cistern water
to slake the dust-cough and chaff-thirst in
my father’s throat, his face blistered by
tractor exhaust as he nudges the yellow
CAT pulling the combine’s sickle and reel
over a sun-bleached field of ripened wheat…
I was brand-new that day, fresh as winnowed
straw, pure as the flame from a blue-tip match
that would soon fire and blacken that golden mane
and prepare the earth, then us all, to receive the plow.”
In the final poem of this book, “Juggernaut,” Litton channels Walt Whitman with words and images worthy of the comparison:
“Forsaken, I walked the rails, steel threads bespeaking
a time when our grandfathers, their horses, plows,
and women, tended the land. That focus and dimness
O Star Lady! America is no longer a dream, it’s a job.
The houses built so that within a year
they look like last year’s toys. Upon the broken boats,
bottles, and sleepless beds, broken glass
and rusted nails, the industrial barnacles breed.
I walked to the day’s littoral along the night’s masked sea
to search the bars where sailors and whores had harbored,
for I had heard that within that beery realm resides
the poet’s library.”
Melvin Litton’s From the Bone should reside in your library.
From the Bone (2018, Spartan Press, Kansas City, MO, viii+70 pp.) is available from Barnes & Noble. Link here to Melvin Litton’s Amazon Author’s Page. To sample his music, link to The Border Band page. Keep up with him at his Facebook Page.