Melissa Hager, Review of Karla Linn Merrifield’s “Lithic Scatter and Other Poems”

by Melissa Hager

Karla Linn Merrifield
Mercury Heartlink
ISBN: 9780988227996

Get ready to take a spiritual journey in Karla Linn Merrifield’s Lithic Scatter and Other Poems. The poet creates a soulful spin on nature, time, and place as she hops from one Western wonder to another.

Launching her tour in the Badlands of the Dakotas, the poet urges the reader to have a conversation with the gray clay. Clay has millennia of stories to tell, and poems like “Badlands Beauty” and “Badlands Sutra” impart spiritual knowledge. We are dust, and unto dust we will return:

…I draw closer,
listen to Her story told in dust
and learn that someday
I am to become
as beautiful as She.
I will slowly, slowly,
ever so slowly follow
her path toward fossils.

Visits to the Northwest and its green hued landscape flow south to Yosemite and the Mojave Desert. A lovely narrative poem transports the reader to the location within Yosemite where the view of El Capitan and Half Dome takes one’s breath away. Merrifield describes all that can be found in “Half Dome’s sharp shadow” including daredevil men rock climbing, hang gliding, and a monarch. She compares their journeys, reminds the reader the butterfly will continue to fly for 2,000 more miles before she is finished — an amazing feat for a tiny creature.
Then, Merrifield moves east to explore the Texas landscape. In this chapter she writes “Copters” and has the reader ask why she would want to disrupt peaceful nature with helicopters. Merrifield shakes the reader, asks us to notice what we are doing to our Earth, how man, animals, companies, greed – so many things — have disrupted nature. Why not throw in a poem in Galveston about helicopters? The last stanza of “Copters” makes me shudder.
Only homo sapiens of the tourist variety,
myself included, lying on the sand are terrorized,
knowing those hovering creatures,
like practiced predators, take their prey alive.

Back in Colorado and the Rocky Mountains, Merrifield celebrates the Colorado River, ancient peoples, and aspens. In “Mile 166: Canyon Colors,” she begins,

Color terror white
and cast it on the river-
am I meant to float?

She wonders what the rocks might say to her if only she could hear. She cannot speak their language, but she does experience their hard lessons in “Mile 75.5: SOS.”

I feel their psalms in my broken skin,
seep of blood, deepening bruises,
when Little Colorado River current sweeps
me away to green water pastures.

The high desert of Nevada is highlighted in “The Void.” Merrifield writes “Welcome, no road sign reads/in this region where you lose all time.” Her description of this landscape is palpable whether from the perspective of the ground, a map, or an airplane — “to navigate this terrain of faultlines,/How it shrinks humanity, how it favors lizards.”

Merrifield did not expound on many personal relationships within Lithic Scatter. She did, however, add a touching poem, “Mesa Verde Vision,” as an ode to her deceased mother. Merrifield imagines her mother with her on the excursion, supporting her as always, even in death.

The poet mentions the ancient Anasazi, or Pueblo People, in several poems centered in Utah and the San Juan River basin. The ancient people’s mysterious disappearance is playfully discussed in the poem, “Amazons of the Anasazi Follow The Chimney Rock Tour Guide.” With a wink to women, Merrifield leads the reader through a two part conversation between the “experts” and the Anasazi women. Present day meets the past as they discuss drought, winds, and the impending invasion of white people. In the end, the experts remain clueless as to what made the Pueblo people leave, but the women…

Only the women knew
It was time to go.
Only we saw you coming
and coming and coming
long ago.
When reading the poem “Cody Museum I — Taxidermy,” the perceived memories of a buffalo’s glass eye make goose bumps rise —

Or does he only see hunters
who took his tongue, leaving few tongues today
to speak buffalo and chant the vast meadow
of America into renewed green being.

What ancient buffalo have experienced is nothing compared to the geographical, ecological, and sociological shifts on earth. In Lithic Scatter and Other Poems, Merrifield imagines ancient conversations – some from people, some from animals. Many thoughts come from the very rocks one stands upon. All place in perspective the world and our part within it.

11 thoughts on “Melissa Hager, Review of Karla Linn Merrifield’s “Lithic Scatter and Other Poems”

  1. Many, many thanks, Melissa, for the careful, insightful reading of Lithic Scatter and Other Poems. You got it! In so many ways. It’s a particular pleasure to know that I raised some goosebumps. I’m tingling now too. Having a hundred copies made to hand out around home at the book’s launch reading and in the west on my New Mexico book tour. Wild thanks!

    • Many thanks to you, Karla, for the wonderful journey you provided. Wish I could be in New Mexico for your book tour. I love that state! And your poetry 🙂

      • Oh, you are so welcome. Yes, New Mex is indeed the land of enchantment. I’ll take you with me when I go…in spirit. Returning to Chaco Canyon as well as Spider Woman rock in Canyon de Chelly (in AZ but technically it’s on the Navajo rez), both kinds of holy places for me. Thanks sooooooooo much! Again!

  2. I had the same reaction to reading Taxidermy, and am on my second careful reading of this extraordinary book of Karla’s. I will follow her anywhere.

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