Attentive to the dawning light, a poem
has much in common with a plant: the crown
delivers photosynthate through the phloem
to earthbound rootsas thoughts are channeled down

to partner up with images (concrete
ones are preferred) from native stock; from roots
the living water is conveyed to meet
essential needs of swelling leaves and shoots

by means of bundled vessels in the xylem
as feelings rise inside what’s said and heard.
Poetic diction is a separate phylum
within the kingdom of the spoken word

(or written word, as things have come to pass,
though one might say the differences are nil),
just as the breezes sighing through the grass
in summer aren’t the same as winds that chill

one’s bones in wintertime.  But what has air
to do with plants and poems?  Everything!
It is the medium the two must share
and share alike, beyond all arguing

about apportionment of CO2
and oxygen.  A word cannot resound
unless there’s air for it to travel through,
that fluid fertile bed of common ground

where life is stirred.  (And what is God if not
the faithful curator of quickened form,
the sempiternal all-forgiving shot
of usquaebach that keeps a body warm

in any weather?)  Given grace and time,
this moving-partless movement will empower
the analogues of umbel, spike and cyme:
They thrive and, trophotropic, come to flower.


















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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29 Responses

  1. Carole Mertz

    You’ve done a marvelous bit of rhyming here, C. B. Anderson. Thank you for sharing your work. I will read it again, quietly and slowly.

  2. Joseph Tessitore

    I just wrote a poem
    ’bout xylem and phloem;
    unusual words and
    not many that know ’em…

    I’d have sworn that I was alone in this, and here I find myself in the very best of company!
    You, of course, have raised it to the level of spectacular!

  3. James A. Tweedie

    C.B. I don’t know whether to laugh at the wordplay, seriously ponder the metaphysics, science, philosophy, and theology, chew on the proposed relationship between plants, poetry, and the wind, or simply let my jaw drop in stunned wonder at the sheer audacity of someone composing a poem as bizarrely byzantine and outrageously outre as this one! I also suspect that there are words in this poem that have never been iambed or pentametered before . . . until now!. Another first for the SCP! All in all, a delight to read! Great job on this one!

    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, you know how it feels when a poem grows organically from the fertile soil of your mind.

  4. Amy Foreman

    Hmmm . . . God as a shot of whisky. That’s a bit of a stretch for me. 😉

    Nevertheless, I enjoyed this poem, Mr. Anderson. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Amy, “usquaebach,” pronounced “ooskabah” is Gaelic and means water of life, which is less of a stretch ,I think, though it is indeed the root from which “whisky” is derived

  5. Mark Stone

    C.B. Hello.

    1. The first thing I noticed was the sophisticated and graceful enjambment that runs the full length of the poem. It reminds me of the waters flowing down Multnomah Falls, a cascading waterfall about an hours drive from Portland.

    2. S2 includes the phrase:

    from roots the living water is conveyed to meet essential needs

    My thought is that water is not alive. But, of course, it does sustain life. So here is an idea, which maintains the meter:

    from roots life-giving water is conveyed to meet essential needs

    3. S3L2 reads as follows:

    as feelings rise inside what’s said and heard.

    It seems odd to me to say that feelings rise “inside” what is said and heard. It makes more sense to say:

    as feelings rise from what is said and heard

    I’m probably missing what you’re trying to say with this line.

    4. S3L3&4 are by far my favorite lines of the poem.

    5. My assessment of this poem is that it is a tour de force.

  6. Ira "Dweeb" Scule

    Mr. Anderson’s “Trope” is an excellent poem. It is reminiscent of metapoetic works, like Modernists Marianne Moore’s “Poetry” or Louis MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica”; though here the vegetative imagery is more akin to the poetry of Postmodernist Theodore Roethke.

    The poem does not remind me of Multnomah Falls, as it does Mr. Stone, but rather the sonnets of Mr. Whidden in its reliance upon enjambment (or to speak with perfect candour, so many of my bildings). But whereas Mr. Whidden’s reach is for a crystalline clarity, Mr. Anderson’s reach is for William Carlos Williams’ “no ideas but in things”: “concrete ones are preferred”. His off-handed remarks are akin to Ms. Moore’s; there is a matter-of-fact quality to them, which I personally like, which reveals the poet’s varied perspectives on writing, a very American attitude, since the time of Poe.

    Mr. Anderson’s diction is not any more complex than it should be. For poetry to be taken seriously in the New Millennium, poets must embrace not only all the terms of literature, but also those of biology and mathematics, of chemistry and painting, of physics and music, of economics and history, etc. This is one of the reasons I like this poem. Of course, the problem with incorporating such terms, as Mr. Tweedie indirectly suggested, but as New Millennial epic poet Frederick Turner has been attempting in his epics, like “The New World” and “”Genesis”, is to embrace those terms within our iambs or our dithyrambs [Who other than Mr. Turner (and myself) has even seriously mentioned the Hamiltonian in poetry?]. Note how Mr. Anderson had to resort to feminine rhymes (which I prefer to call, two-syllable rhymes) to incorporate such terms in his poem, an ongoing argument I have had with him (and others both here and elsewhere) about the necessity of doing just that—and even more. In some ways it is so pathetic, not only here @ SCP, but throughout the poetic world, that even such a simple term as CO2 is not printed with its subscript.

    As an aside, I much prefer to sense the power of God as a lightning bolt, as opposed to a shot of whiskey, electrical fire in the sky with its attending thunder, as opposed to firewater and its attending jolt.

  7. Mark Stone

    C.B. It occurred to me after I posted that “living water” may be intended as a Biblical reference.

    • C.B. Anderson


      Well, yes. It’s something like that. As I wrote to Amy above, “usquaebach” is a Gaelic word (in one of its many forms) that means “water of life” and which gave rise to the modern word “whisky” (or “whiskey”). But also consider how water is activated in homeopathic remedies, becoming in some sense alive with the botanical properties of the plants used to make such preparations.

  8. James A. Tweedie

    It may also be worth mentioning that my Christian faith asserts that God (in Jesus Christ) is present in the Sacramental cup of fermented wine. Some traditions assert that the wine actually becomes the physical embodiment of God/Christ. God as wine? Water of Life? Living Bread? “Still small voice?” Pillars of fire and smoke? God’s presence in a glass of whiskey may not be biblical, but if it was, wouldn’t we embrace it?

    • C.B. Anderson

      There must be a reason that distilled alcoholic potations are called spirits.

      • Joe Tessitore

        Spirits can be good or evil – the alcoholic variety have been an unfortunate force for evil throughout our history.

        No person of good will can say this about God.

  9. James A. Tweedie


    I come from a temperance background and still possess my great-grandmothers WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) white ribbon pin. I believe that the prohibition amendment and the national movement for sobriety (backed by virtually every state legislature, the U.S. Government, a popular national consensus–a movement led by women, by the way) saved the nation from an epidemic of alcoholism that threatened both our nation’s social and economic foundations. The movement also led to the use of non-fermented grape juice in many Christian denominations, including mine. The amendment served its purpose well but was wisely revoked in response to the widespread criminal corruption it generated. I do not find comparing God with alcoholic beverages to be personally edifying or spiritually uplifting. I do not believe this was either C.B.s intent or mine. Nor, I dare say, was it the point Jesus was trying to make during the Last Supper. Even so, for better or worse, both wine and usquaebach have been culturally valued for spiritual as well as social purposes in nearly every society that has ever existed. Yet as you say, alcohol does indeed have power to destroy and has been the cause of much human suffering. If it cannot be used wisely, well, and in moderation, it should not be used at all.

    All of this is a distraction from C.B.s excellent poem and if I have contributed to this distraction I apologize.

    • Joseph Tessitore

      Perhaps the more excellent the poem, the more disparate the issues that arise from it.

      I believe that we all comment on what we feel we need to. I see no reason at all for you to apologize.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Oh, please! The Prohibitionist movement was one of those sick, puritanical campaigns to meddle in the private behavior of people, of the sort that America is so prone to initiate. It was also profoundly rooted in a deeply nativist anti-Catholic sentiment, aimed at wine-drinking Italians, beer-drinking Germans and Slavs, and the whiskey-drinking Irish. And yes, Mr. Tweedie — it single-handedly created organized crime, giving those bootlegging racketeers the money and muscle that were the source of the massive drug cartels that plague us today.

      If somebody’s drinking is self-destructive
      You cannot conclude, by a train deductive,
      That everyone else is a helpless sot
      With liver cirrhosis and moral rot.
      Still. teetotal frenzy infects our land.
      There’s always some Puritan with his hand
      Raised in a warning against libations,
      With bogus advice and fake protestations
      And goody-good shpiels about pristine fitness–
      Let God be my single, abiding witness:
      They don’t give a damn if your health is crappy–
      They’ve only one aim: To make you unhappy.
      To such people I say: Tend your own damned garden,
      And don’t act as if we must beg your pardon
      Whenever we pour ourselves dry martinis.
      The world isn’t ruled by you tight-assed weenies.

      Joseph S. Salemi,
      Anti-Alcohol Stalwarts, from “A Gallery of Ethopaths”

      • James A. Tweedie

        Mr. Salemi, This comment thread is getting old and cold but I just discovered your reply to my earlier comment. I take the time to write this only so that your comment does not remain unanswered.

        You assert the following: “The Prohibitionist movement was one of those sick, puritanical campaigns to meddle in the private behavior of people . . .”

        1. The prohibition movement was hotly contested and debated nationally for well over sixty years before it became the law of the land. It was one of those rare issues where liberals and conservatives were equally divided on its merits. In the end it was approved by a significant majority of both parties in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate. It was subsequently approved by the legislatures of 46 of the 48 states. It was supported by the liberal National Council of Churches as well as evangelical and fundamental Christian denominations. The Roman Catholic Church was the only significant Christian organization to oppose the legislation (along with German Lutherans and liturgical Episcopalians).

        While women spearheaded the national campaign for prohibition, the power to enact it was entirely in the hands of men, both in the national and state legislators (which consisted only of men–women’s suffrage was granted the same year) and in the churches (where women were excluded from leadership).

        According to an MIT study, the national consumption of alcohol was reduced by 70% during most of the years the prohibition amendment was in force. After its repeal the consumption level continued at 30% less than before enactment for several more years.

        A Wikipedia article on “Prohibition in the United States” (which is wonderfully free of “urban legend”-style rhetoric) supports this research as follows:

        “Research shows that prohibition reduced overall alcohol consumption by half during the 1920s, and consumption remained below pre-Prohibition levels until the 1940s, suggesting that Prohibition did socialize a significant proportion of the population in temperate habits, at least temporarily. Rates of liver cirrhosis “fell by 50% early in Prohibition and recovered promptly after Repeal in 1933.” Criticism remains that Prohibition led to unintended consequences such as a century of Prohibition-influenced legislation and the growth of urban crime organizations, though some scholars have argued that violent crime did not increase dramatically, while others have argued that crime during the Prohibition era was properly attributed to increased urbanization, rather than the criminalization of alcohol use. As an experiment it lost supporters every year, and lost tax revenue that governments needed when the Great Depression began in 1929.”

        Anti-German (and its allies) sentiment was indeed stirred up in anticipation of the US entry into WW I. This spilled over into the prohibitionist movement where it was noted that the major producers of beer (and many of the major financial backers for the anti-prohibitionist movement) were breweries with German roots. Although this anti-immigrant argument was used in support of prohibition it was not central to it. Having said this, I do not deny that there was a racist/anti-immigration sentiment among many of those advocating prohibition. Curiously, however, this was a sentiment found among both liberals and conservatives in both religious and political circles. Also interesting is that African American church denominations also supported prohibition.

        I read where someone summed up the matter of prohibition by saying: “Women and Protestants liked it, men and Catholics did not.”

        Based on the fact that men elected a majority of legislators who supported prohibition (instead of voting for those who opposed it) I would suggest that a majority of American men also supported it along with a minority of Catholics (there was, in fact, a Catholic Total Abstinence Union of America).

        While Mr. Salemi’s comment has some element of truth in it, it badly misrepresents the whole truth which is far more complex than either his or my own SCP comments can address.

        While we may come at the subject from different directions Mr. Salemi and I both seem to agree that, in the end, prohibition created more problems than it solved and that an overwhelming number of American citizens and elected officials eventually came to the conclusion that the time had come to get rid of it. Which they did.

  10. David Watt

    This highly distinctive poem has raised some spirited debate. Nevertheless, we can all agree that it is well written.

  11. Joseph S. Salemi

    Mr. Tweedie, your entire argument betrays a blatantly majoritarian prejudice. The mere fact that a great number of people want something (or, as in the case of the temperance movement, were propagandized into believing that they wanted something) is immaterial to the objective merits of any case. Truth is not determined by a vote. I don’t care how many women or state legislatures or Protestant churches supported Prohibition — it was still a stupid and destructive idea.

    As for the the alleged “reduction of overall alcohol consumption by half,” I suggest that it is this blanket assertion that is the stuff of urban legend. How in blazes could anyone determine that for the entire nation, throughout the 1920s? Has it not occurred to you that such an assertion is based on nothing more than the obvious disappearance of recorded liquor sales and distribution? As a matter of fact, the production of traditional moonshine whiskey in Appalachia and the Deep South continued full-blast during this period, and supplied plenty of drinkers with alcoholic beverages. The same thing happened elsewhere in the nation, which was supplied by local bootleggers or by smugglers who brought in all sorts of alcoholic drinks from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Europe. But none of this activity was ever recorded. Does that mean it didn’t happen? The idiot who wrote that Wikipedia article is clearly a frustrated Prohibitionist, pining for the good old days of the Volstead Act.

    But I will tell you one more consequence of the misbegotten “temperance” movement. It brought about the godawful Income Tax in 1913. One major argument against Prohibition was that the U.S. government derived the bulk of its tax revenue from brewers and distillers, and without such revenue the government could not function. So it was those fanatical temperance types who lobbied and fought ferociously for the introduction of the Income Tax law, as a way to destroy one major argument against Prohibition. As soon as they succeeded in 1913, the path was cleared for the Volstead Act.

    And what was the ultimate consequence of that? Well, in due course the American government grew into that bloated monstrosity that we have now, controlling American life with an unending stream of our tax dollars — dollars that are regularly used in ways utterly alien to the wishes and desires of ordinary Americans. The fanatical teetotal ladies of the WCTU created the Leviathan State that tyrannizes all of us today. In my view, this was an even more dire consequence than the rise of organized crime syndicates.

    The Protestant American psyche (derived from Puritanism and Evangelicalism) is passionately addicted to controlling private behavior. Anti-alcohol, anti-smoking, anti-prostitution, anti-bad language, anti-dancing, anti-drugs, anti-pornography… I mean, good God, isn’t this as obvious as the rising sun? These people are as crazy today as they were in 1620!

    The anti-drink ethopaths had their hour
    When back in the twenties they came to power.
    The stupid faux pas known as Prohibition
    Reduced the U.S. to a sad condition.
    Our nation was swept by a deafening roar
    Of murder, extortion, contempt for law,
    Bad whiskey, foul gin, and the organized rackets,
    Cheap hoodlums in diamonds and dinner jackets,
    Tommy guns, killers, and beer on draft,
    Corrupted officials and outright graft,
    Speakeasies, stills, and a fleet of smugglers,
    An army of shysters and legal jugglers
    Working full-time, paid in bootlegged brass–
    The temperance jerks brought these things to pass.
    And did it stop drinking? Did one damned souse
    Because of the law stay home in his house
    Imbibing pure water? Did anyone change?
    If you’ve got an I.Q. in room-temperature range
    Perhaps you believe it. There are some people
    Like Simon Stylites upon his steeple
    Who live in a world of imagined pictures,
    Unaware of the fruits of their moral strictures.

    Joseph S. Salemi, Anti-Alcohol Stalwarts, from “A Gallery of Ethopaths”

    • C.B. Anderson

      This might be my favorite part of A Gallery of Ethopaths, and not just because I am inordinately fond of single malt Scotch whisky. Unintended consequences are a real thing, and something which our legislators and various agencies seem particularly inept at anticipating.

      If I had known that “usquaebach” would have incited such a firestorm, I might not have written it. On the other hand, I probably would have written it anyway. Everybody: Enjoy your drink of choice, even if it’s distilled water, and have a good day week month year life.


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