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On Sighting a Marsupial

“Serve with: Turnip greens” —Joy of Cooking

Opossums are so ugly that it isn’t clear
Another of their kind would find one good to look
At.  Matted fur and hairless tails do not endear
Them to Americans.  According to a book

I read, their closest relatives are found down under—
Such animals as winsome kangaroos and cute
Koalas —causing a reflective man to wonder
If maybe they were shipped abroad by some astute

Australian aborigine who recognized
Our vast emergent Melting Pot for what it was,
Or whether maybe Mother Nature so despised
Her homely get she sent them packing—or because

She just adores a vacuum.  In the middle of
The night I watched a possum gnaw the chicken bones
Intended for my cat.  My heart holds little love
For uninvited creatures feasting in the zones

I guard.  I’m all for immigrants if they are legal
And don’t pretend, as these, to be what they are not:
They’re good at playing dead, and may deceive an eagle
But not coyotes which, like them, are often shot

On sight.

.

.

Cautious, but Never Shy

Wave good-by to friends you made last summer,
Send them greeting cards postmarked in autumn
With reminders that the rules you taught ‘em
Don’t apply when life becomes a bummer

Too acute to remedy or render
In a language well-adjusted humans
Understand.  When days are cold, dismember
Furniture for fires that squander lumens

Making possible the nights when vital
Books are read, the books which sort the living
From the dead-of-mind not known for giving
Out an author’s name, much less a title.

Say your prayers, and carry an umbrella
For the rain.  Untie your shoes before you
Take them off.  Try singing a cappella,
Dare an orchestra to just ignore you.

When you travel, take along the pillow
You’re accustomed to, and do your sleeping
In the care of trusted arms.  No weeping,
If your truck pancakes an armadillo.

.

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When Lives Are Measured by the Meal

Uva-uvam vivendo varia fit.  (Motto of the Lonesome Dove Ranch)

A life is not defined by money earned,
But rather by the effort one’s invested.
It’s vexing when a cast-iron stomach’s turned
By food left sitting in the sun, ingested

Without a second thought despite stern warnings
The Surgeon General regularly gave.
Fine days begin with ordinary mornings
And only end when matters deemed of grave

Importance have been settled out of court.
For some stout souls, the grail is public service;
For others, it’s a sweat-intensive sport,
The kind where coaches get extremely nervous

When games are on the line.  To test the scrawl
Of poets, editors of poetry
Throw poems up against the kitchen wall
And note the names of readers who agree

The stanzas are al dente.  Everyone
Must eat, but those who understand that food
Is more than what goes on inside the bun
Are working toward a nobler consuetude.

.

.

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. Shaun C. Duncan

    These are all a joy to read, C.B. I particularly loved On Sighting A Marsupial, though I take some issue with the notion that koalas are cute. They live in the trees outside my house and their guttural mating call is probably the most unpleasant sound you’ll hear in the Australian bush. Our possums are far cuter than the American variety though.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, Shaun, people think koalas are cute because they look cute in still photos without sound. Your possums couldn’t possibly not be cuter than ours. Opossums and skunks might be the only small mammals I haven’t eaten at one time or another. Add woodchucks to that short list.

      Reply
  2. jd

    I enjoyed all three, especially the 2nd and 3rd which
    gave me a peek into what I assumed might be some
    of your daily experiences. No doubt they are all
    launched that way. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      So, jd, those poems have little to do with my “daily experiences; rather, they are the experiences of the narrator of the poem. In a fictive artifact, it is best not to conflate the narrator with the author.

      Reply
  3. Cheryl Corey

    In your first piece, I found “On sight.” to be a very effective ending. I’m tempted to check out Joy of Cooking for other such exotic culinary delights. It’s interesting what we humans will eat. Settlers of the early west were known to eat bear and make use of bear grease. I still remember my grandmother making pig’s feet for my grandfather.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Some of the recipes in that tome might surprise you. “On sight” is a hemistich, such as one will find in a rondeau, except that here it is not required by the form, but is entirely nonce, and that here it is derived from the title instead of the first line.

      I’ve eaten bear, mountain lion, raccoon, squirrel & jackrabbit, but I usually had to make up my own recipe.

      Reply
  4. Joseph S. Salemi

    Three delightful (and very different!) C.B. Anderson poems. The hexameter quatrains of the first one take you on a bumpy ride through the world to a slam-dunk ending which suggests that the speaker has zeroed in with his rifle on the intruding opossum and taken it out (note the ambiguity of “sighting” in the poem’s title — just seeing it, or getting a sighting reticle on it?)

    The iambic-5 quatrains in the second poem alternate between ABBA and ABAB, but every line ends feminine. This intricate pattern frames a strange story that goes from summer to autumn to winter, and then to reading, praying, singing, sleeping, and then flattening another animal. It has a kind of “On the Road” feel to it.

    The third is the toughest one — life choices paralleled with images of food and eating, and that last quatrain with poems being flung like cooked pasta against a wall, all of which leaves me dizzy! But that last line (“…working toward a nobler consuetude”) is unforgettable.

    As for the quote from Lonesome Dove Ranch, I’ve never made sense of it. If it were just Uva vivendo varia fit,” it would mean “The grape becomes different by living.” But the addition of the accusative form “uvam” perplexes me.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      In the first poem, Joseph, I rely on the false notion that opossums are immigrants, but in fact they have been with us since Laurasia split off from Gondwanaland.

      The second poem is definitely “On the Road (Again?)”. The feminine end rhymes were called for because the meter is trochaic and I chose to avoid catalexis.

      Well hell, you were my last recourse. Years ago I asked an older friend of mine who had taught himself Latin to help me. All he could tell me was that many Latin phrases do not well lend themselves to word-for-word English translations. I asked a couple of guys who had been classics majors as undergraduates to help, and the best they could come up with was that it must mean something like, Variety is the spice of life. The English output from an online instant translation program was utter nonsense. So where does this come from? Or was the motto made up by some cowboy or rancher who happened to know a little Latin? I’ve wondered about this for years.

      Reply
      • Joseph S. Salemi

        I checked with someone here at the Classics department. The “uvam” is what is called an “adverbial accusative,” and therefore the best translation is this:

        The grape, by living as a grape, becomes different [or variegated in color, or mottled]. Since Latin is so concise, that could be understood in a number of ways. The fact that the sentence is oracular and cryptic doesn’t help matters.

  5. Brian Yapko

    Although all three of these are extremely enjoyable, C.B., I most enjoyed “On Sighting a Marsupial.” I’m the only person I’ve yet heard of who has been bitten by an opossum. It’s a long story and I’m grateful that marsupials don’t carry rabies. But the scar has lasted a long time and I resent the ugly little buggers. Quick note on line 7: I think “kaolas” should be “koalas.

    Cautious but Never Shy is a burst of joy which gives superb instruction on cautious conduct which yet dares… I especially like the rhymes of “umbrella” and “a capella” and I was gobsmacked by the sheer surprise of the truck flattening the armadillo. If a poem leaves you with a smile on your face I’d have to say this one’s a huge success.

    I’m most intrigued by the slightly manic, almost stream-of-consciousness quality of “Measured by the Meal. ” The poem is moderated, mostly, by food metaphors but is obviously about deeper matters which start with ignoble but busy things like the Surgeon General and settling things out of court but which then talks about the grail of public service. There is much going on here and it sounds like you are describing a parade of human nature that does not have all that much to do with food after all. Your phrase “The stanzas are al dente” made me laugh but your movement towards a “nobler consuetude” made me think and go back to the beginning. The Latin phrase “a grape becomes mottled by being a grape” made me consider on my second reading that perhaps a poem, like a grape, sometimes simply is.

    As always, I am greatly impressed by your poetic style. It takes a lot of work and skill to make poetry look this conversational and effortless. Your ability to breeze past line endings is enviable as is your gift for unexpected rhyme. Add to that I got to learn a new Latin phrase and the meaning of consuetude. You’ve made it a great day to read poetry!

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Thank you, Brian.

      Although possums like to play dead, it should not surprise anyone that they would use the weapons at their disposal against anyone or anything who didn’t fall for it. You are exactly right about “koalas.”– the typo was my fault, and perhaps someone back at the ranch will correct it.

      Back when I wrote the second poem I was cautious, but never shy. Nowadays I am shy, but rarely cautious.

      We are all still wondering how the epigraph in the third poem should be translated. Back in the day I just wrote, with little thought about how much sense I was making; I probably still do this. It must be a conversation I am having with myself, all formalities aside. A formal structure is kind of like a playground in which whimsy and free association are not just permitted, but are explicitly required. You can quote me on that.

      Reply
  6. Margaret Coats

    Poems of advice, from my point of view, are the most difficult to supply with any flicker of interest. This was a most popular genre in the Middle Ages, because authors felt a need to write them, but whether anyone ever felt a desire to read them, I haven’t heard. “Curious, but Never Shy” offers some hints about making advice palatable. Suggest the character to be achieved in the title; give some unusual pointers while maintaining outworn adages; save a surprise for the end. Or was this a character piece painted in proverbs? Either way, it’s better than readable.

    Liked the possum piece too, even though I don’t hate possums as much as you do. I think I recall that Joy of Cooking has a drawing of how to skin one. But with Fannie Farmer, I recommend collards rather than turnip greens. And plenty of gravy made with another flavor (bouillon cubes, anchovy paste). You want supper to taste as good as your poem!

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Thank you, I think, Margaret. Petronius could’ve gone on for another twenty lines, and we still might not have tired of it. “Outworn adages” are useful 1.) when they can be re-expressed crisply in compliance with the formal demands of the chosen form, and 2.) when they can be subverted, perverted, or otherwise modified to create something unexpected. In any case, no one in his or her right mind should be taking advice, on most things, from me.

      Reply
  7. David Watt

    These three poems are an entertaining mix of observation, advice, and seamlessly linked trains of thought.
    Our possums, of which we have plenty, are certainly cute, but they hiss, growl, screech, and eat just about anything growing in the garden. Despite their shortcomings we use the word ‘Possum’ as a term of endearment. I gather from your description that calling someone ‘Possum’ would most likely be taken as an insult in America.

    Reply
    • C.B Anderson

      We apply many animal names to persons when the occasion arises, but these terms are almost never complimentary: Dog, skunk, pig, jackass etc. I’ve never heard possum used, and the word itself sounds somewhat cuddly, as when we might say to a cute child, “Hey, Punkin!” [deformation of “pumpkin.”]

      Reply
  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    C.B., your poems always give me food for thought, though I would never contemplate eating a possum with a side of turnip greens. We have a resident possum who clears our lawn of feline feces and keeps the bug numbers down. I love them… ghostly faces, bald patches and all. I’ve decided to relax my backyard-border rules just for him.

    Thank you for this well-written, thought-provoking trio of poems that beg for more than one read.

    Reply

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