The Catholic Work Ethic

I’ll do as much as I am able
__Before the sun has set.
I doubt that I will run the table
__Because I haven’t yet

__Achieved my full potential.
There will be time to lie in bed
When doctors have pronounced me dead,
__And what is most essential

__Is that I live as if
My wake were scheduled for tomorrow.
__Until I’m cold and stiff,
I hope to cause my friends no sorrow.

I’ll know it’s time to shed this mortal coil
When I’ve grown tired of burning midnight oil.

Published in Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder (2013)


In Vain We Close Our Eyes

We say our prayers, and then we fall asleep
To reconnect with interrupted dreams
In which our destination always seems
To be just out of reach, in which we keep

Forgetting where we’re headed.  Lack of rest
While sleeping is a hazard anyone
Who’s ever had to suffer through a run
Of rotten luck knows all too well.  It’s best

To stay the course, though Hamlet had it right
When he admitted being somewhat worried
That traumas which were better dead and buried
Might surface unexpected in the night.

To live, to die, to dream ….  It’s all the same
For underfunded unenlightened creatures
That never had the benefit of teachers
With expert understanding of the game.

Alack, Alas, and many other quaint
Expressions indicating one’s dismay
Are common cries on any given day
When heroes quail and maidens fail to faint

On cue.  We’ve no especial fear of death;
It’s something other people undergo:
An inconvenience dreamers scarcely know
Until they rattle out their final breath.

Published in Pennine Platform, No. 68 (2010)


Now, as I gaze across the river
To moorings on the other side,
An evening chill evokes a shiver
That ripples up and down my hide.

A star is rising in the east
To signal that the day is spent
And that a sinner should at least,
If only for a while, repent.

My errant feet might well get wet
Before I make the final crossing,
But better that than to beget
Eternities of bedtime tossing

And turning when the worldly lights
Go out.  The Lord dispenses pardon
To those who use their last few nights
For making sure their hearts don’t harden
Against preferred celestial flights.

But what am I, if not a fool
Who thought himself beyond retrieval?
My idle hands, the Devil’s tool,
Should serve the Good and swat the Evil,
As practiced in the Master’s school.



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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23 Responses

    • C.B. Anderson

      I’m glad you liked the trio, Joe. Just to be clear, if “Catholic” had not been part of the title, it would have been spelled with a lower-case “c,” meaning, simply, “universal.” But the wordplay would still have been in play. I’m curious about which lines you found most appealing, for knowing this will help inform my decisions in future endeavors. I like a good line as much as the next (wo-)man, but sometimes it’s hard to know when one has pulled one off, or pulled one out of his hat. I am also glad, Joe, to know that you have not gone to sleep yet.

      • Joe Tessitore

        I can’t imagine that much gets into your poetry that you didn’t intend, but in “…Work Ethic” I loved your use of the word ‘wake’, which I took both literally and as in ‘awake’.
        I also loved its closing couplet.

        From “In Vain…” I loved the Hamlet sequence
        ‘…Hamlet had it right…That traumas…Might surface unexpected in the night.’
        ‘When heroes quail and maidens fail to faint On cue.’,
        and from “Jordan”
        ‘when the worldly lights Go out.’

        I’m soon to be sixty-eight
        and I think I’m still awake.

  1. David Paul Behrens

    These are all excellent poems, which I seem to be able to identify with, and they have a redeeming quality to them.

    I often have worrisome dreams, with their own stories and plots, usually based upon real life circumstances from my past experiences, and I wake up relieved that I was only dreaming. Probably the most frustrating recurring dreams are about walking endlessly through the streets of some large city, unable to find my way home, or unsuccessfully searching for my car in some huge parking lot. Where is Sigmund Freud when I need him?

    I enjoyed these poems, mostly because they seem to reflect a reality of life in understandable terms, a quality which all good poetry should achieve.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, David, I, too, know those dreams all too well. Last night I visited the college where I began my undergraduate studies, and I found that old familiar terrain hard to navigate. When I woke up, however, I found myself wishing I could go back. It’s funny how these things work out.

  2. James A. Tweedie

    C.B.. Joe’s favorite lines are also my own. I also liked the closing lines of In Vain We Close Our Eyes.

    That said, your poems remind me of an age long past where mortality was not only a given, but a routine part of life, especially for children. Between 1850-1900 20-40% of children born in Western Europe died before the age of 5 years. Isaac Watts (1674-1748), aguably the greatest hymn writer of all time, wrote many spiritual poems for children in which he openly instructed them to remember that death could come to them at any time. His little book, “Divine Songs Attempted in Easy Language for the Use of Children,” includes the following:

    Awake, my soul, without delay,
    That if God summons thee this day,
    Thou cheerful at his call may’st rise,
    And spring to life beyond the skies.
    (From “On Death”)

    There is an hour when I must die,
    Nor do I know how soon ‘twill come:
    A thousand children young as I
    Are call’d by death to hear their doom.
    (From “Song X Solemn thoughts on God and Death”)

    Let the sweet work of pray’r and praise
    Employ my youngest breath:
    Thus I’m prepar’d for longer days
    Or fit for early death.
    (From “Song XII The advantages of early Religion”}

    Similarly, the famous children’s bedtime prayer first found its way into print in 1742:

    Now I lay me down to sleep
    I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
    If I should die before I wake
    I pray the Lord my soul to take.

    Modern versions of this poem have changed the final two lines to avoid the subject of death altogether. Times have changed. Today, at least in First World countries, death is denied, caskets (if there are caskets at all) are closed, grandma no longer dies in your house in the bedroom next to yours, and measles or influenza no longer erase an entire generation of children in a local community in a matter of weeks. This set of three poems is a reminder that whether we ignore it, deny it, or embrace it, death comes to us all. As one wag put it, “The statistics on human mortality are staggering: 1 out of 1 persons, die.”

    These three gently-written poems do us a great service by reminding us–as adults!–to prepare ourselves for the day when we will “shuffle off this mortal coil.” What one believes about life, death, and what (if anything) exists after death, makes a great difference in how one lives his or her life. It is a subject worth pondering. Thank you, C.B., for bringing it to our attention today.

    • Joe Tessitore

      And this, indeed, was an excellent comment!

      I still remember “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep”, in its original version, from my childhood.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I thank you, James, for reminding me of that old familiar bedtime prayer that has since been bowdlerized. It always ended: And God bless Mommy & Daddy and Nanny etc.

  3. David Watt

    I also liked the lines mentioned by Joe and James. However, the closing couplet of ‘Work Ethic’ is my favorite. The accompanying photo was no doubt chosen in response to the effectiveness of this visually descriptive couplet.

    It strikes me that the presentation as a trilogy provides even greater impact than if read separately. Looking at different aspects of mortality gives emphasis to its universal, and inescapable nature.

    • C.B. Anderson

      David, I sometimes wonder why I write so many poems on this subject, but I shouldn’t be surprised: Mortality is with us always … until it isn’t!

      • Joe Tessitore

        We of an age!

        I just started “The shadow of my cross draws near and I recoil in abject fear”

  4. Joe Tessitore

    I should add that I also find myself appreciating children more and more.

    I help with Communion at Church and when the little ones come up there’s just nothing to compare with it!

    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, Joe, the “little ones” often tell us everything we need to know. My own children were raised Christian, with varied results. Endowed with the Lord’s perfect freedom, these little lambs will find their own way home.

  5. Monty

    Three quality pieces, pertaining to a universal and easily-identifiable subject-matter (seemingly felt by the author), and all exemplarily written with disciplined meter, clear and fluid diction and impeccable grammar throughout.

    Given my genuine admiration for all three pieces, I was ever so slightly disappointed to notice the rhyming anomaly in lines 10 and 11 of ‘In Vain . . . ‘ – “worried” and “buried” are half-rhymes at best; and one wonders how they ever found there way into one of three poems which all otherwise contain such strong and immaculate rhymes. Both words should’ve been stopped at the door by security, and refused entry. It doesn’t take a lot to envisage how the rhymes could be remedied (forgetting meter for the moment) with something along the lines of “When he admitted to being concerned/That traumas which were better left unturned . . ” – and that was off the top of my head! If one were to dedicate 20-40 minutes to those two lines, they could each probably be perfected.

    Staying with ‘In Vain . . ‘ – I assume that the seemingly oxymoronic “lack of rest while sleeping . . ” was intentionally placed; to describe the plight of some who’s sleep is never deep enough to attain adequate “rest” . . as in the “tossing and turning” in ‘Jordan’.

    All in all: three strong poems . . real poems . . real poetry.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Monty, what the heck do you find wrong with worried/buried? In the dialect of English that I speak these words rhyme exactly. Please tell me how you pronounce them, for otherwise I might be worried that I will be dead and buried before I understand the gist of your complaint.

      • Monty

        Fear not, C.B.; it’d take anyone a long time to “understand the gist of my complaint” . . ‘cos I never made a complaint! That’s your word, not mine; I only made an observation.

        And I further observe that . . . of course ‘buried’ can me made to rhyme perfectly with ‘worried’: but only if one adds a 2nd ‘r’ to it . . thus it becomes (the non-existent) ‘burried’: to be pronounced like ‘hurried’: which rhymes fully with ‘worried’.

        But without the 2nd ‘r’ . . come on, lets not waste our time debating whether they fully-rhyme or not: they don’t.. they won’t.. they can’t. Forget ‘dialects’: to ANYONE speaking in British or American english.. ‘Bury’ is pronounced as ‘berry’; so ‘buried’ is pronounced as ‘berried’ . . . and yet ‘worried’ is pronounced as ‘wurried’; hence, it’s with incredulity that I realise you’re trying to tell me that, in effect, the sounds of ‘berried’ and ‘wurried’ (after their 1st letters) are exact . . when they’re so obviously and patently NOT exact.

        ‘Berried’ and ‘wurried’ are pure and classic half-rhymes: no more, no less; and if we swap the 1st letters around, we’ve got ‘werried’ and ‘burried’.. pure half-rhymes: no more, no less.

        The 2nd letter of ‘buried’ is ‘u’: the 2nd letter of ‘worried’ is ‘o’.. thus, if you’re making the preposterous claim that those 2 words rhyme exactly; then, at once, you’re also claiming that there’s no sound-difference between the letters ‘u’ and ‘o’ . . tosh!

        I hope you can now see, C.B., that to claim ‘bury’ and ‘worry’ as being a full-rhyme . . is also to claim that ‘merry’ and ‘curry’ is a full-rhyme. Need I say more . . . ?

  6. J. Simon Harris

    All three of these are fantastic. I’ll say a little about each of them.

    1) In “The Catholic Work Ethic”, I love the evolution of the structure of the stanzas. The rhyme scheme and meter of the lines undergoes kind of a smooth inversion going from the first to the third stanzas, which I think is very interesting. Then the final couplet provides a little closure to it all. Very well done.

    2) In “In Vain We Close Our Eyes”, I admire your use of enjambment. I think the enjambment enforces the sense of unrest you are describing in the poem. And you gotta love this line: “To live, to die, to dream …. It’s all the same”. Great play on Hamlet (“To die, to sleep, no more”).

    3) The final poem is just a solid allegorical poem. Everything in it fits nicely; the language is smooth and the rhyme and rhythm feel very natural. How great is this pair of lines: “And that a sinner should at least, / if only for a while, repent”? Perfect placement of the commas.

    As others have said, the three poems go well together and reinforce one another. I always enjoy your work, but these are almost on another level. I read through them multiple times. Thank you.

    • C.B. Anderson

      J. Simon, I’m glad you caught that “inversion” (or reflection) in the first poem. That was deliberate on my part, a way to enhance the structure of what is not quite a sonnet. As originally submitted, lines 1, 3, 6, 7, 9 & 11 (all tetrameter, with feminine end rhymes in stanzas 1 & 3) were indented to distinguish them orthographically from the final pentameter couplet. A small thing, perhaps, but is it not said that the art is in the detail? I think I’ve learned how to use commas. There are times when they must be used, but there are other times when their use is optional. The overarching rule is that punctuation should serve clarity.

      To answer Monty in regard to the worried/buried problem, the way I say “bury” rhymes with “hurry” and not with “ferry.” My dictionaries do not support this though, and perhaps I’ve been mispronouncing “bury” my entire life. I shall have to ask my friends how they pronounce it. If most of them pronounce it the way the dictionary says it should be pronounced, then I and everyone else should accept worried/buried as a pretty damn good slant rhyme. Neither outcome should surprise me. It was only recently that I learned not to pronounce the “L” in words like “palm.”

      • J. Simon Harris

        Yes, the art is definitely in the detail. A little thing like indentation can make a big difference. Still, your poem seems to have gotten by without it.

        As for the rhyme, I say you should rhyme in your own dialect, and let the readers sort it out. I once read that some linguists believe that many of the slant rhymes in Shakespeare (such as “prove/ love”) were actually perfect rhymes in the original Elizabethan dialect. It doesn’t kill the poetry that we perceive them as slant rhymes today. When I say “buried”, it rhymes with “married”; but I have known many people who say it the way you do (rhymes with “hurried”), especially in certain parts of North Carolina (where I’m from). I don’t mind the rhyme at all. But you know, that’s my opinion.

  7. Monty

    Either you’ve simply not spotted the following, J, or you’ve chosen to overlook it . . but, of the three words you used above: “buried.. married.. hurried” (and your injudicious claim that they rhyme fully), have you not spotted that one word contains one ‘r’, while the other two words contain two ‘r’s? Or are you aware of that, but’ve dismissed it as insignificant?

    If the latter, I hope I can demonstrate that it IS significant.
    A double ‘r’ in a word is there for a reason; to indicate how that word should be pronounced. A vowel before a single ‘r’ is pronounced a certain way; but the same vowel is pronounced differently if it’s followed by a double ‘r’. If one wants to fully rhyme ‘buried’ with ‘hurried’, one has to add an ‘r’ to ‘buried’.. so it becomes ‘burried’ . . there’s no other way those words can fully rhyme (I don’t care WHO speaks with WHAT dialect in WHICH part of the world). Without a 2nd ‘r’ in ‘buried’, it can only ever be a near-rhyme to ‘hurried’.

    Let’s try from another angle: Instead of adding an ‘r’ to ‘buried’.. let’s subtract one ‘r’ from ‘hurried’.. hence we have (if you will) ‘huried’ (or from ‘married’ we have ‘maried’). So, given that ‘buried’ can only FULLY rhyme with ONE of those two words – ‘hurried’ or ‘huried’.. not both – then, well, d’you realise what you’re trying to claim: that ‘buried’ rhymes fully with ‘hurried’ . . but not with its exact rhyme.. ‘huried’?

    Ça suffit, sûrement!

    • J. Simon Harris

      I respectfully disagree. Aside from the fact that pronunciation varies by region, spelling and pronunciation often do not match in English. Hence “buried/ married/ varied” all rhyme, by are spelled quite differently. And, as in the famous I Love Lucy bit, “enough/ though/ through” do not rhyme at all, despite being spelled similarly.

      Besides, I did not claim that “buried/ married/ hurried” all form a perfect rhyme; I claimed that “buried” may rhyme with one OR the other, depending upon one’s dialect.

      • Monty

        Ah, so you’re going with ‘varied’ now (to rhyme with ‘buried’. What happened to ‘hurried’: don’t ya fancy it any more? It goes without saying that ‘varied’ and ‘buried’ is almost a full-rhyme; but ‘hurried’ is nowhere, and I’m glad to see that it’s now been discarded.

        I’m sure it was unintentional on your behalf: but the ‘enough/though/through’ thing seems to support my case more than yours . . does it not?

        In the penultimate line of your last comment, might I gain your permission to highlight the word ‘MAY’; and to also highlight that word’s difference to the word ‘DOES’?

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