Obituary

Late summer, when the bumblebees begin to die,
You’ll see them clinging to the petals of a flower
For dear life—or at least it seems so to an eye
Untrained in entomology. They’ve had their hour,

Have likely reproduced authentic replicas,
And now are caught in the inanimate repose
They’ve earned by simply doing everything that was
Expected of them. No one living really knows

What colors stain the Umwelt of a bumblebee,
Or what compelling fragrance draws it to the nectar
Of which it drinks. The more complex reality
That human beings navigate—a private sector

Bound up with social threads—is plagued by states of mind
Which naturally arise inside a primate brain:
Perfunctory regret, and motive ill-defined;
The fear of losing hope, and existential pain.

Although at last you recognize how far you’ve fallen,
Belated clarity does nothing to forestall
What’s bound to come. Too late it is to gather pollen,
But much too soon to die with flowers in the fall,
____________________to hang your laurels on a wall,
____________________to say you never lived at all.

First published in Anglican Theological Review (vol. 98, no. 3, summer 2016)

 

Olive Branches

The scientists declare we’re made of atoms
Inside a universe devoid of spirit,
Where no extreme idealist ever fathoms
The sound of falling trees with none to hear it.

The truth is rather more complex than that,
So let me cite a couple good examples:
When Noah landed on Mount Ararat
It wasn’t to collect more bio-samples

Or hear the pine trees falling in the woods;
And when a lover whispers to his love
Endearments that beget new neighborhoods,
It isn’t to commemorate the dove

That bore the evidence of solid land.
Unlikely as it seems, the fertile mind
Engenders everything we understand,
No matter how reality’s defined.

 

C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press.

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13 Responses

    • C.B. Anderson

      Thank you, Steve. Rhyming is important to me, as I have given up on writing “free” verse for many years now. The subject matter is something I seem unable to shake, and I expect my new book of metaphysical poems to be published in the near future.

      Reply
  1. David Hollywood

    Both poems have a wonderfully separate but similar strike: stoic, fatalistic and incorporeal. Thank you.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      David,

      I thank you for the comment. But “stoic?” My temperament is actually more epicurean, even Dionysian at times, but with a tinge of melancholia. In any case, you are welcome. Let me share another poem, first published in TRINACRIA, where the opinions expressed therein are not necessarily those of the author:

      With Disdain for Order

      Don’t speak to us of rectitude,
      Forbearance, goodness, truth, or beauty;
      Our one and only sacred duty
      Is chasing rainbows in the nude.

      Like little boys comparing farts
      Or girls pretending to be hip,
      You flaunt your stifling scholarship
      And brag about your prissy arts.

      Without good reason you attack us
      For doing as we damn well please;
      Perhaps you envy days we seize
      In honor of our patron, Bacchus.

      Lay down your arms and rest your legs,
      You arrogant pretentious fools;
      Defile your churches, close your schools,
      Take off your clothes, and tap some kegs.

      Your lofty plans will someday fail,
      Your works become a heap of rubble,
      So spare yourselves much needless trouble
      And play with us beyond the pale.

      Incorporeity probably works best for for the dead, but is it not indeed the case that life remains essentially mysterious?

      Reply
  2. David Watt

    I thoroughly enjoyed both poems.
    Lines including ‘When Noah landed on Mount Ararat
    It wasn’t to collect more bio-samples’ appealed as they inject a balancing element of humor into a serious subject. The eloquent truth of the final stanza in ‘Obituary’ rounds this poem off to a most satisfying close.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      I’m glad you enjoyed them, David. Humor (or at least playful wryness) is something I find hard to avoid. If a poem does not entertain on some level, then I am not much interested in either writing it or reading it

      Reply
  3. James A. Tweedie

    C.B., It may be that humans are the only creatures who are self-aware of their impending mortality. Your tenure as a gardener qualifies you to find meaning in the waning moments in the life of a bee. However melancholy the subject may be, the specter of death holds the power to motivate us to dedicate our lives towards making the world a better place or to surrender to the self-absorbed meaninglessness of “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”

    I came to a conclusion similar to yours while walking in the San Gabriel Mountains during a spiritual retreat near Pasadena, California. I recorded my thoughts as follows:

    The Yucca plant blooms once, just once, and dies.
    It sees this not as some big sacrifice.
    How sad ‘twould be to hear death’s final call
    And realize I’d never bloomed at all.

    Or, as Hamlet framed the question, “To bee, or not to bee . . .”

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Dear James,

      You got out of the poem more than I was aware of putting into it, but that isn’t all that odd or surprising — I usually don’t write poems with an outline in mind; sometimes they just happen. And, having lived in the Southwest for several years, I believe that it’s not the Yucca plant exactly, but a botanic relative known as the Century Plant, that blooms once and dies. I thought your quatrain was very good nonetheless.

      Reply
      • James A. Tweedie

        C.B. You are, of course, correct about the Yucca producing an annual bloom and my confusing it with the Century Plant. I hope you and your poems will continue to bloom like the yucca!

  4. Ileac Burweeds

    The comments of your strand have prompted me to write a couple poems. The first one comes from yours and Mr. Tweedie’s comments. [In the title and line 9, Josh’ua has two syllables, in the final line three.]

    The Josh’ua Tree
    by Ileac Burweeds
    for C. B. Anderson

    The Yucca brevifolia, known as the Joshua tree,
    extends to many scattered sites across the Southwest scene:
    from California to Nevada, and Arizona too,
    it raises up its branches, like the prophet, to the blue.
    The Promised Land before you comes, the sunny, burning earth.
    The arid, barren desert yields its vegetating girth.
    The narrow leaves persist upon the endmost branching limbs,
    but dead, slim leaves last many years, and join the bark-like rims.
    The Josh’ua tree can grow up high, in sunlight stilled and gold,
    like Joshua in battle gear outside of Jericho.

    Comments and your knowledge of plants brought forth the following dodeca.

    Pink Evening Primrose
    by Ileac Burweeds

    Pink evening primrose blossoming, feathery, petal-opened,
    at dusk in northern Texas, flowers i’ the coolness.
    All night it’s contènt; it has a fragile eye of yellow-white;
    there rustling, wiggling i’ the breezes, airy-fresh, hidden, unknown.

    At morning, one sees them along the path or the carriageway;
    they stand in clusters, or lone, not aromatic or sweet,
    however, oh, so beautiful and blooming, as if of love;
    diaphanous, they die, withering each day’s generation,

    yet are replaced by the very stem’s conical whorls,
    that turn into new flowers, longing to spin i’ the air,
    pink ladies, showy, speciosa, dresses in a swirl,
    returning, drought-resistant, invasive as a weed.

    I hope you will keep SCP updated on your knowledge of plant-life poetica.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Mr. Burweeds,

      I’ll do what I can. This one was published in England, in Pennine Platform:

      The Order of Bloom

      The common name attached to Clerodendrum
      is glory-bower, which is no surprise
      at all to those whose prime elect agendum
      is growing flowers for receptive eyes

      to feed the empty closet of the soul.
      The genus boasts in excess of four hundred
      species, which make a most impressive whole,
      bit it’s as though the Grand Designer blundered,

      for only one is hardy in New England —
      trichotomum, if anybody cares
      to know. Perhaps the Ancients were delinquent
      for never having said the proper prayers

      that might have led some wonders from the tropics
      to thrive among the likes of Emerson,
      Thoreau, and other northern hyperopics.
      It’s rare when error lacks a benison —

      a corollary of redemptive laws
      controlling forms like clouds with silver linings
      and ill-begotten winds that balance flaws
      by blowing in a bit of good. The twinings

      just out of reach, of shoot and vine and tendril,
      bequeath, to those below, a mute aloha,
      a tacit salutation which is central
      to everything revealed in each corolla.

      A house of glass, built far from fist-size stones:
      a habitat ordained for spending hours
      or days in, holy nave of temperate zones
      reconsecrated to impending flowers.

      See what you made me do?

      Reply
  5. Catherine

    Dear C.B,
    I do believe that I have come across a poem of yours called John Barleycorn, John Courage. However, I cannot find the publish date. Would you be able to supply me with is information.
    Cheers Catherine.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Dear Catherine (whoever you are),

      This poem was submitted to a contest sponsored by Edge City Review (a long defunct journal of formalist poety) at least ten years ago (probably when John Kerry was running for President). It was never published (as far as I know), though it might have appeared at The Hypertexts as part of Michael Burch’s periodic publication of a selection of timeless political poems. I just can’t remember. The poem was second runner-up in that contest, and I am astounded that you came across it. If you can tell me where you saw it, I would be very interested to have that information. If you can’t reach me here, then try me at cbanderson49@gmail.com.

      Reply

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