C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden. His poems have appeared widely on several continents. His book of poems, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder, was published in 2013 by White Violet Press.
Hearts of Palm
The priest, on Wednesday, traced a ragged cross
Upon our brows with sacramental ashes
Of palm leaves held in escrow from the year
Before, which symbolized eternal loss
Averted—through the scourge of nails and lashes—
And was intended to dispel the fear
Of death. The insubstantial cross we bore
Until it washed away had no effect
On how we later went about our lives,
Since we were all too willing to ignore
Its import, scarcely pausing to reflect
On what our hearts disclosed. The world contrives
To set us on a path that leads us back
To where we started from: a playing field
That’s tipped in favor of the status quo,
Where it is normal to forget we lack
A firm foundation. Fates are seldom sealed
In their entire, and we would love to know
The reason why a Savior should have suffered
For mortals so reluctant to believe.
Although a grain of faith might well lie dormant
Within a doubter’s mind, perversely buffered
From cognizance, we wear upon our sleeve
No heart, and on our palms no sign of torment.
Sailing On to Oblivion
… For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.
One sunny afternoon, a honeybee
Alit upon a blossom near the place
Where I was wont to sit and have a drink
Or several—happy hour began at three
O’clock those days. My mind was on the brink
Of that supernal state where focus blurred
Enough to render normal time and space
A stage on which surreal events occurred,
But this time there was just the humdrum process
Of pollen being harvested by knees
With which an arthropod is well endowed.
My mind held no scintilla of the gnosis
Observers on occasion are allowed,
For I was disengaged, content to watch
An apian imbiber probe the lees
Of nectar as I nursed a dram of Scotch.
But then there came to me a sudden thought:
Is not the flower, to a bee, as great
An altar as the one before which kneel
Communicants who drink the wine they sought
Throughout their lives? Before the seventh seal
Is opened by the lamb, I vowed, I’ll taste
Again the honey distant kin create
And not believe my life has been a waste.
Against the Demise of Excellence
For those who pledge their lives to toil and care,
The world’s a place in need of firm correction.
But vast majorities seem unaware
Of malady or glaring imperfection
In what, since early childhood, they regarded
As perfect terra firma organized
By undemanding principals—discarded
Is any reconstructive scheme surmised
To hold accountable a human being
Being a human. Such misrule incites
Displeasure in the few who, disagreeing,
Maintain that any right to special rights
Is earned by dint of earnest application.
This earth will soon become an utter cesspit,
A monument to wanton desecration,
Without at least some temporary respite
From willful systematic negligence,
The normative M.O. of human trash
Devoid of decency and common sense.
Although the world might someday burn to ash,
The perseverant crew that gives a damn
Will always do their best to do what’s right,
Without or with a nod from Uncle Sam.
Applaud those souls who try to stem the blight
Condoned by Dionysus. Perfect they
Are not, but wisely they decline to lecture
The rabble, hopeful measured effort may
Restore Apollo’s vanishing prefecture.
We harbor secret thoughts,
And we are burdened with a slew of doubts.
The upshot is that oughts
Turn into gray cascades of do-withouts,
As though we lived inside a prison
From which no saint has ever risen.
The message that the sun
Conveys is often modified by clouds
That frown upon our fun,
But in the history of disalloweds
Not every errant hoof is cloven,
Nor moral codes from sanctions woven.
A life entirely lock-stepped—
The kind that Adolf Hitler might admire—
Reduces any concept
Of freedom to obedience: Desire,
Unless in service to the powers
That be, will merit many hours
Of strict re-education.
It’s easy to approve of those who dare
To risk the condemnation
Of others who control the very air
And all the airwaves; difficult,
To be a vocal lone adult
Insisting on his rights.
And therefore we rely upon our patience
To get us through the nights
We must subsist below our proper stations,
Believing there will come a day
When laissez faire is here to stay.
In Einstein’s universe,
Where relativity is fundamental,
A man could do much worse
Than to regard the velvet glove as gentle,
Despite the hidden iron fist,
Eternally the optimist.
In the Eyes of the Undertaker
While beauty touches even death, I ask,
Expecting no clear answer, whether all
Such solemn endings must be beautiful.
Approaching Grandpa’s casket was a task
A boy of twelve found awkward. I recall
My Uncle Bob, his son, more dutiful
Than I would ever hope to be, remarking,
“Isn’t he beautiful?” Morticians had
Accomplished that which they were paid to do.
I can’t remember my reply. Embarking
On one-way trips was something that my dad
Had not explained too well, and no one knew
What tragedy awaited in the wings:
Three decades after my grandsire’s demise,
My Uncle Bob, for reasons still unknown,
Drove straight into the river. There are things
Too subtle to be seen with human eyes
Which nonetheless leave traces clearly shown
In faces of the ones to whom we’re bound
With threads of consanguinity. They dragged
Him out, still buckled to the driver’s seat
Of his sedan. They searched, but never found
An open bottle on the floor. His bagged
Remains were taken to the morgue, the heat
Long dissipated from his vital core.
When Grandma (Bob’s and my own mother’s mother)
Arrived, she cried, “I want to see my boy!”
The coroner denied her, and she swore
At him with Irish fury. In some other
World, maybe she’d have gotten to enjoy
The closure of an open-casket parting.
A fatal embolism took her ten
Years after that, and now there’s no one I
Look back to but my parents. I am smarting
Already, not from ifs, but from the when.
Nobody sound of mind would choose to die
Or see a loved one laid to rest, but no
One is exempted when the time has come.
While writing this beside a lake in Maine,
I note the fir tree we had thought would grow
Into the light, a hopeful stalwart from
The global tillage. Now its needles stain
The forest edge with russet shades of death.
It’s beautiful against the living green
Of other trees behind it—just so long
As I have sight, and I can muster breath
To tender an opinion of the scene.
Mortality is neither right nor wrong.