Lithic Scatter and Other Poems
Published by Mercury Heartlink, 2013
The Missing Force at 360 N Latitude,
1070 57’ 30” Longitude
With the sun in its summer
house, afternoon winds beat
the sand’s message of heat.
Clouds assemble to drum
thunderstorms. But no rains come.
Where snake should swallow lizard,
eagle swallow snake,
time swallowed whole
the golden bird and its people
because no rains came.
The magnitude of their loss
is the magnitude of their epic
ancient civilization brought
asunder by all the erosional
forces you can name, except one.
When no rains came after
the solstice morning upon solstice morning,
endlessly rainless, the wind, worse
than the desert wind I mentioned,
a life-abrading wind, roared
And I see gravity toppled the Anasazi
gods from atop their canyon temples.
I see great edifices of sandstone
and great walls of rock and mortar
baked and frozen for eons,
tumbled into ruins—
Chaco without the force
Chaco becoming a message
of the dust.
At once sweeping, visceral, earthy, gritty, ethereal, and primordial, Karla Linn Merrifield’s Lithic Scatter and Other Poems unfolds a kaleidoscopic odyssey of the American West at its all-natural wildest. Here is the frontier seen — and felt — through the eyes of a visionary poet who explores the region’s vast terrains as anthropologist and archeologist, historian and ethnographer, shaman and seeker-after-self. From the whimsical to the emotionally searing, these 57 poems evoke vast landscapes rich in myth and mysticism, loss and hope. Merrifield captures the West’s majesty and brings it home for all to discover.
Karla Linn Merrifield’s latest collection is a spirited celebration of the natural world. Her poems take us on an intimate journey across diverse landscapes, listening intently, as in “Everything’s Talking:” “Each Douglas fir punctuates/ in two-hundred-foot exclamation points,” and looking deeply, as we gaze in to the glass eye of a stuffed buffalo in “Cody Museum 1 – Taxidermy.” There is magic here, and reverence for the sacred feminine, all woven together with exquisite, earthy details. Merrifield’s broad scope shines in lines like these, from “One Hard Lesson,” where we are drawn in as the speaker considers a collection of rocks gathered from many travels: “these solid stories of the Earth,/ remind me who I am on a Sunday morning,/ knowing the destiny of every rock is to become sand.”
– Sudasi J. Clement, poetry editor, Santa Fe Literary Review; author, The Bones We Have in Common
I’ve had the pleasure of floating a few rivers on the Colorado Plateau with Karla and she is a gem in the sense of living life in poetry. It seems to ease out of her every pore including her tear-ducts. Having her join me on a boat for a day has always been a treat and she speaks so eloquently about the emotion that we feel when immersed in the great outdoors and the elements, and writes about what we are feeling. Karla is one of those folks that we as guides dream about, who “get it” as we try to understand the spirit of place when, floating a quiet stretch of canyon, surviving a large rapid, or sitting at river’s edge feeling the emotion of light. Her poetry is in my river library box and comes in quite handy when the mood strikes. Long live her painted words.
– Andy Hutchinson, Colorado Plateau boatman
No tourist guide to badlands, canyonlands, desert monuments, Lithic Scatter is a passionate, precise field record of knowledge won through bruising encounters with rockface, rapids, scorching sands. Won too from patient encounters with Anasazi artifacts, O’Keeffe paintings, outpost country, exile country, / loneliest dust-and-stone country that defies the grid / of your imagination. Somehow, in this masterful collection, the author has been able to fuse the dithyrambic to the scientific, to present us the rough specimen alongside the river-polished stone. Far from a bruising read, Lithic Scatter is a Wunderkabinett of earthly delights
– John Roche, author of The Joe Poems: the Continuing Saga of Joe the Poet
In Lithic Scatter, poet-guardian of the Earth Karla Linn Merrifield tosses stones in the ten directions and asks us to find the treasures that lie beneath the surface they land upon. She tells us “Landscape bids you to absorb time.” We best listen to what her landscapes reveal because written beneath their “parched, rough skin folded and folded over bones” lie histories – history of where we came from, histories of who we are. What are these bones, and what do they implore us to do? Having walked, paddled, scrambled on hands and knees through brush and gravel wash, and having sat with the Earth for decades, Merrifield knows – “even stones utter mythic stories…They wrap me in their receptive skin to listen and in turn receive.” So take this beautiful book of poems forged in the crucible of Western landscapes, find a favorite piece of geology, sit, read a few poems, listen to what frog, raven, bison and painter have to say about time, because in the West “time is different” and Merrifield’s poem-maps show the way.
– Michael G. Smith, poet and chemist; Jentel and Andrews Experimental Forest Artist-in-Residence
On Amazon, 5 of 5 stars : “A fantastic array of poems”
Reviewed by Auntie Annie
Ms. Merrifield writes of the mountains and the deserts in such a way that you know she is at home there. She writes of the Anasazi and her connectedness to them. She includes a wonderful series of poems about Georgia O’Keefe. Her descriptions are apt and original, appealing to all five senses. Perhaps my favorite poem is “High-Altitude Spectrum.” In it she discusses the colors of the trees, birds and beasts that inhabit the high mountains, shimmering “a rainbow as if/ a sudden summer thunderstorm/ has washed the mountains iridescent.” Lovely.
5.0 out of 5 stars — “A Poet Lets Nature In”
Reviewed by by Maureen Kingston
Lithic Scatter and Other Poems is both lunge and careful backtrack. The natural world has its way with Karla Linn Merrifield and she with it. In “Magnitude 5.4,” nature has the upper hand: “I am face down, / spitting dust, spooked / by stone’s empty eyes, / non compos mentis. / The San Andreas shifts.” In “Shall We Gather at the River?” she acknowledges her (and our) insignificance in the midst of the rift valleys of the American southwest: “canyons are not for people—they’re for rivers.” “Making Beds” is heartbreaking in its understatement. Merrifield visits a shellfish enhancement project—a bureaucratic label that screams human intervention in its perverse mission to manipulate bivalve production. She longs for “purer places, ones with no signs of what’s being lost,” but she comes along “too late,” she says, “for all but an aftertaste.” And yet, she can’t go against her own nature to seek and create, finding inspiration in O’Keefe’s paintings, Navajo lore and animals of all sorts. In “It is You Who are Essential,” the coyote’s song reverberates to bone: “I shall let your howling teach me for all time / to remember my illuminated hunger.” Lithic Scatter is a testament to an artist’s courage to keep herself open no matter what. She leads by example and honest poetry, encouraging readers to do the same.
5.0 out of 5 stars — “Celebrating the Landscape”
Reviewed by Laury A. Egan, author of Beneath the Lion’s Paw and Snow, Shadows, a Stranger
In this fine collection, the first poem, “Dancing with Green Bees,” sets the joyous tone as Karla Linn Merrifield, a widely traveled poet, revels in the landscape and celebrates the wisdom and lives of our native inhabitants. From ephemeral bees to ancient stones, nothing is beyond her eager examination; indeed, a tiny cobble will set her on a flight of wonderment and philosophical conjecture. Stylistically, this book is a marvel of musical lines, such as when she describes “arriving like snowmelt in spring from the slickrock flanks of the Chusaka Mountains.” Color is also a constant revelation: a black bear is “in a cinnamon morning coat” and “bald domes wake from violet sleep.” The book has its somber moments, especially when Merrifield confronts the destructive nature of modern man; touches of wry humor, too, such as in the poem where she contrasts dragonflies with helicopters (“draconian Homeland Security spawn.”) Lithic Scatter and Other Poems will strengthen Merrifield’s considerable reputation as an American naturalist-poet.
5.0 out of 5 stars — “On Lithic Scatter”
Reviewed by Laura G.
Karla Linn Merrifield’s poems convey a tawny warmth, and a strong sensory awareness of her surroundings. The poems in Lithic Scatter move through realms of ancient rocks and primordial beginnings, to places where science meets mythology, mythology and history overlap, and art melds them together. Her journey west take us―by proxy―to where inner and outer realities merge. Merrifield is stoic in pursuit of intelligent adventures, though her bravery and joie de vivre are infused with touching moments of fear and doubt. The journey turns inward, but simultaneously feels universal — and she always returns to her surroundings with renewed enthusiasm. Readers will be happy to travel the pages of this book with such an astute and poetic guide.
5.0 out of 5 stars — “Experience the Magic”
Reviewed by Colleen Powderly
In Lithic Scatter and Other Poems, Karla Linn Merrifield immerses herself in the energy of the natural world, then takes us on a journey through the American West through eyes attuned to that energy. With her we travel as mystics, learn things we would not otherwise know–how quartz sparkles in the San Juan River above the Colorado, how a mountain stream lives its course to a canyon river, how prehistoric women exist near the mouths of ancient caves. Because Merrifield grows into these landscapes and allows them to grow into her, we experience their magic as she does, in moments of powerful peace and ecstatic union: I fly over/ carved clay mesas, spires, canyons,/ a shadow upon shadows bringing/ another thunderstorm, needed rain,/ floating on a good tailwind. Such sharing strengthens our humanity, reminds us of the need to attend both ourselves and Earth.