Habeas Corpus

Of those whose job it is to get results
It might be asked: to what infernal purpose?
Extortion, threats, felonious assaults,
And foul deceptions only scratch the surface

Of crimes they’re always willing to commit
In order to accomplish what they’re after.
Complaints of being roasted on a spit
Are met with unremitting rounds of laughter.

The means are justified by wicked ends
With no relation to the scales of justice,
And any vain attempt to seek amends
Is answered with a smug rejoinder:  Trust us,

For we’re not in the least like all the others.
Their extralegal powers shock and daunt,
So tell your sisters and your stubborn brothers:
If you are captured, give them what they want.

A lie that spares a life is justified
And certainly is not a mortal sin;
The bloody gurney on which freedom died
Is where a white untruth might save your skin.



Whistling in the Wind of Eternity

___What kind of paradise is this,
Where all I’m asked is to be true to me
___And help my fellows find their bliss?
To these requests I’ll heartily agree

___And not feel bad if I should fail
To carry out the letter of the law,
___For here nobody goes to jail,
And no one fears the rule of tooth and claw.

___But I must ask, is this forever?
Or just a passing stage I’ll soon outgrow
___When I decide a strong endeavor
Is better for my health?  Please let me know.

___The larger question:  Where am I?
Inside the Tabernacle of the Lord,
___Or someplace where an alibi
Turns out to be a plea I can afford?

___My efforts may well come up short,
But that does not imply I haven’t tried,
___And I’m not ready to abort
The mission, since I’ve never really died.



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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16 Responses

  1. Joseph S. Salemi

    These two poems highlight the particular skills of C.B. Anderson as a literary craftsman. In “Habeas Corpus,” note that his ABAB quatrains have alternating masculine and feminine line endings. It’s a simple enough thing, but how many poets today would even think of doing it? Also (as I read the poem) his first four quatrains are about criminals and the criminal mentality — the arrogance, the selfishness, the contempt for victims. But the last quatrain is deeply ambiguous — even mysterious — in its statement. Is it about the sparing of life, or about capital punishment (the bloody gurney)? How does the act of lying fit in? The poem shows that it is possible to write a compelling piece while at the same time maintaining an aura of uncertainty. However, I’m liable to be wrong here — maybe Kip Anderson has a very specific meaning in mind that I’m missing.

    “Whistling in the Wind of Eternity” is also remarkable. Notice that the lines of his quatrains vary from iambic fours to iambic fives — not the most comfortable scheme to read, but one that appeals to a mature taste, like bitter olives or caviar. Also, the rhyme of “am I” and “alibi” is striking. As for the poem’s statement, it is a hard nut to crack. Is the speaker describing an actual “paradise” where he is located? He is alive, since he speaks of his health, and of possibly outgrowing something, and at the end he denies having died. So what exactly is this pre-death paradise?

    He says that he is expected to “help my fellows find their bliss,” and later he wonders if he is in “the Tabernacle of the Lord.” My first guess is that he is talking about being a member of some sort of church or religious body, concerning which he is having some doubts or incipient skepticism. He ends by saying that he has tried hard, but he’s “not ready to abort / The mission” (life itself?), since he is still alive.

    Again, I may be completely wrong here. But Kip Anderson shows that a really good poem doesn’t necessarily have to have a clear, unambiguous, and open-and-shut meaning

  2. Brian Yapko

    C.B., one of the remarkable things about your poetry is how you manage to be both specific and cryptic at the same time. But it never feels like you’re trying to be purposefully vague – it’s more like overhearing a portion of someone’s conversation and trying to imagine the whole from bits and pieces. It’s powerful because when I read your work I can’t put it down until I get some clarity around it.

    I very much appreciate Dr. Salemi’s comments, because they give me a framework for understanding some of the intricacies of how you write and what makes your work unforgettable.

    I can only now comment on what I subjectively bring to the poems and please forgive me if I’m way off base. “Habeas Corpus” is fraught with legal phrases and images, from the criminal law title “You Have the Body” to the scales of justice, extralegal powers, the necessity to invoke a lie to save a life… It is also fraught with corruption. There are so many ways to view this but I envision a Kafkaesque persecution in which your focus is not so much on the victim as on the corruption of those the victim is forced to interact with. You are intentionally vague about whose corruption it is: government agents? investigators? police? lawyers? Your “Trust us/For we’re not in the least like all the others” reminds me of some of the sleazy lawyer commercials I see on local TV. But it could equally apply to an interrogation of good cop/bad cop. I’m left with haunting questions rather than answers: Captured by whom? Is Freedom itself the “corpus” of the title? What killed the Freedom that it is being wheeled through an emergency room to the morgue? How does a white untruth save one’s skin? Even though this poem sparks deep unease, I want more!

    I also really like your “Whistling in the Wind” poem. It is also cryptic, but much more contemplative. You again invoke some legalism – alibis, the letter of the law, “the plea I can afford.” But this seems very much like a meditation on a state of mind – one in which the speaker experiences a state of spiritual joy which is not fully understood and which exists under threat of dissolving. Here the law — even if not corrupt — seems to be the enemy of bliss. I think the key to your thoughts here is the last stanza’s acknowledgment: the efforts you make to find and hold onto joy and to have your larger questions answered may – or may not– come up short. But life goes on and continues to offer possibilities.

    I’m sorry to have written so much but your work fascinates and challenges even as it entertains. I find that to be an uncommon gift.

    • Clifton Anderson

      Your comments, Brian, are as perceptive and as interesting as any I have had the privilege to read. I’d like to respond line by line, but life is short (and scrolling back and forth is long). Unfortunately, such a long-form discussion would require several hours in the comfort of your salon with an ample supply of appropriate potable fluids to carry it off. The cryptic nature of some of my lines is probably due to my failure to make the necessary logical connections between one idea and the successive ones, a subject which I attempted to address in my reply above to Joe Salemi. When in doubt, I generally try just to wing it and let the chips fall where they may. That’s probably not the best of plans, but what else am I to do?

      If you are sorry for having written so much, then feel sorry for yourself, because I enjoyed and appreciated every word. It’s a strange world that persons like us inhabit, and it’s a kind of paradise, if I may say so.

      • Brian Yapko

        C.B., northern New Mexico is the land of Better Call Saul. In Albuquerque there are actually tours of the filming locations. Very popular with the tourists. The funny thing is local lawyer commercials are just as cheesy and sleazy as the ones on the TV show. Truth imitates fiction. Or vice versa.

  3. Clifton Anderson

    So many questions, Joseph. Is it fair to say that even I don’t always know quite what I’m getting at? But as I read these poems again, with your questions in mind, I can come up with some ideas about that. Both poems are reflections on and of my dissatisfaction about the world in its present state.

    The last stanza of “Habeas Corpus” is a comment on the preceding stanza. Lie to your captors, and confess to crimes you did not commit if it will save your life. There is no good reason to be honorable in the face of one’s enemies. The “bloody gurney” is just an image representing the mayhem and the vitiating policies promoted by the current Administration.

    The “paradise” mentioned in the second poem, as near as I can figure, is just the old normalcy that has been stripped away from us: a time when people could go about their business safely, without fear, and with confidence that competent adults were in charge of all the important things. But you are correct: a person does not have to die or stand tall; a person (a true person) does need to stand up.

    “Find your bliss” is something that that big mythology guy (whose name I cannot recollect at the moment) used to say in his recorded lectures.

    I belong to no conventional or fringe religious sects. I’m just a simple theist who likes good things done well.

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Kip, the mythology guy who said “Follow your bliss” was Joseph Campbell.

      Yapko’s comments made me realize that I had neglected to consider the legal references in these two poems — especially the title “Habeas Corpus,” which is a time-honored right in English and American jurisprudence. This right is now a dead letter, as is shown by the continued incarceration of the January 6 arrestees, who are now as powerless, brutalized, and victimized as anyone in a Communist GULAG.

      What you say about the lost paradise of our “old normalcy” is on everyone’s mind — at least on the minds of those who still can think rationally. Just today, at dinner, my brother brought up this very point when he lamented the complete collapse of the world described in your third paragraph, and the contempt for human rights displayed by the bi-coastal elites who now rule us.

      As for religious sects, at least as far as their human and institutional manifestations are concerned, I feel utter disgust. They are completely and joyfully in the hands of the globalist vermin who are bleeding us.

      • Clifton Anderson

        Joseph Campbell, exactly. And the idea that there was any kind of insurrection on January 6 is a complete fable, something that not even Aesop could have imagined.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Clifton, what a beautiful name. It reminds me of my home county of Kent and the white cliffs of Dover. It also has a Wuthering Heights appeal about it. If Heathcliff had been Clifton, perhaps Cathy would have found peace. It also reminds me of one of my favorite jokes – what do you call a man with a seagull on his head? Enough of my quirk… I love “Whistling in the Wind of Eternity”. For me, it’s full of questions I often ask myself. If one believes in the eternity, why should this life make me want to fight tooth and nail for justice when I know there’s never going to be justice here on earth? Why don’t I just rub along with a smile and a pat on the back for my fellow man, bring a little joy to another’s day, and abide by the golden rule? I know the answer… and I wish it wasn’t so. I know my thoughts on the poem are off track… but sometimes going off the rails is my style. Thank you for two thought-provoking and highly entertaining, well written poems.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I don’t know, Susan, how “Clifton” got into this thread. It was my father’s first name, which he bequeathed to me, but I’ve always gone by “Kip.” And I am quite aware of its geographic and topographic implications, which is why I would never suggest that you drop over some time. But please tell me what the punchline of that joke is. I really get your reservations about where our world is headed, and, as a society, we mustn’t keep going down that same old track. I hate to quote someone as slimy as Jesse Jackson, but we must find a way to keep hope alive. Faith and charity, by themselves, are simply not enough.

      You “fight tooth and nail for truth and justice” because it’s the right thing to do — Ethics 101. The pain you feel is due to the fact that you are a moral person.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        The punchline is “Cliff”. It makes me roar with laughter… but it doesn’t beat – What do you call an Irishman swinging from a light bulb? Shaun DeLier. Ouch!

  5. Mike Bryant

    C.B. first… both poems are wonderfully crafted and somewhat cryptic. I think that your first is about the real world, the temporal world our minds live in now, somewhat uncomfortably. And those lies we have to tell, sometimes even to ourselves, must be quite clever in order to navigate these shores.
    Your second is obviously about the other real world, the infinite, or perhaps the virtual, for now, communion of poets. In that world, you have no qualms. It really is a paradise. And I know that your poetry will always be whistling along in those winds.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, Mike, you’ve certainly helped clear up a couple of things. Someday you must teach me how to read between the lines.

      • Mike Bryant

        That’s only what I would’ve meant if I had written it…

      • C.B. Anderson

        What I meant, Mike, is that you (and others) have helped me understand these poems better.

  6. David Watt

    The title “Habeus Corpus” sums up, for me at least, the effect of these two
    poems. Of course, each piece may be interpreted in different ways by readers, but their words and thoughts release us from current absurdities, even if for a fleeting time.
    Keep up the good fight, and those lines which are never predictable.


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