Reality Check

__The bars we frequent have been raised too high,
Not calibrated to the greatest common factor:
__The will to let things slide.  Who can deny
This, save for someone who is such a polished actor

__That he or she can lie without a quiver
Of lip or chin?  It’s one thing being shit-face drunk,
__But driving innocents into a river
Is something else again.  The station wagon sunk

__In seconds, disappearing out of sight
Before our very eyes.  The air was turning chilly
__As day gave way before the coming night;
Attempts to counter gravity seemed just as silly

__As rafts of fresh complaints from wealthy tourists
Intent on staking out a new vacation spot,
__Who hire the services of able jurists
When short of level banks on which to pitch a cot.

__And meanwhile, water filled the straining lungs
Of victims much too young to vote or ever matter,
__Frail climbers on survival’s bottom rungs.
If sink or swim’s the only choice, let’s choose the latter.



The Hunt

The hounds are at my heels—so close, I feel
their breath condensing on my woolen socks,
the very ones she gave to me.  I’d kneel
to pray, except that flinty broken rocks

lie underfoot.  She didn’t mean for me
to run, but nonetheless her thoughtful gift
ensured there’d be that possibility,
and I would thank her now but for the rift

that out of nowhere opened up between us
and sent me running off into the night,
Oh, look!  The evening star ahead is Venus,
I’m pretty sure, and what a winsome sight

the goddess is, despite the raft of trouble
incited by the steam of sudden love,
a love now ruptured like a floating bubble
too frail to stand the lash of twigs above

the playground.  Hounds don’t mind a bit of mud;
it makes the trailing simpler.  Neither do
they shy from danger or the scent of blood:
While puppies being trained to hunt, they grew

quite fond of primal triggers set to spur
adrenaline.  Though I could say the same
for me, how different it must be for her,
the woman poised to share my family name.

I tell myself again, lest I forget
it: schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley,
as true tonight as when that Scot first said
it long ago.  To keep the hounds at bay

is not the hardest task.  More difficult
by far is facing wolves that lie in wait
ahead, disposed to mount a swift assault
on curs who’ve let themselves tergiversate.

And yes, I know how easy it will be
for them to slay me when I finally say,
“And now I lay me down to sleep ….”  My plea,
with luck, should buy me time to slip away.



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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12 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I take “Reality Check” as an event that actually happened. I do hope they were able to swim out of there. I felt “The Hunt” was in a dream. I did a learn a new word: To “tergiversate” is to vacillate or equivocate. The quote from Burns is well placed.

    • C.B. Anderson

      The particular event of which I am aware, Roy, took place somewhere down south some ten or fifteen years ago. My memory of it is sketchy, but I think the mother might have survived. I think she had three children with her.

      I agree that “The Hunt” is somewhat dreamlike, or at least a fugue state driven by a bad conscience.

  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    Notice in “The Hunt” that Anderson links the first six quatrains by enjambing the fourth line of each to the first line of the quatrain that follows. This makes for a very smooth narrative flow. He does the same in the first four quatrains of “Reality Check,” but here the alternation between iambic 5s and alexandrines hobbles the flow deliberately, because the subject matter requires it. The accidental drowning of children is too somber to be given in an easy read.

    Once again, I’m amazed at how Evan manages to find the perfect illustration for a posting.

    • C.B. Anderson

      As you well know, Joseph, once a poem, ab initio, embarks on a set course, the following lines and stanzas are made to measure — they are, as it were, bespoke. The enjambments etc. that you note are more or less accidental, but I cannot not take credit for them. It all comes under the rubric of fooling around with words. Without words, where would any of us be?

  3. Jeff Eardley

    CB, there is a poignancy in “Reality check” particularly the final stanza. Like Roy, “tergiversate”;sent me to the dictionary. “The Hunt”is blessed with lots of subtle imagery that makes for repeat readings. These are both very good. Thank you.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I thank you, Jeff, but keep your dictionary handy, for you will need it again someday.

  4. Brian A Yapko

    Wow, C.B., “Reality Check” is as powerful a poem as I can recall reading. You propel this narrative forward with enjambment that has the force and effect of a speeding train. What’s really effective is the way you use polished, carefully controlled language as the narrative voice for much of the poem but then punch out of it with a harsh term like “shit-faced drunk” or deep disdain with the “wealthy tourists” and their “able jurists” all contrasted with the pathos of those “frail climbers on survival’s bottom’s lowest rungs.” This is a poem which demands that the reader make moral choices which are more complex than “sink or swim.”

    “The Hunt’ is a wonderfully-wrought poem also propelled by enjambment with even greater momentum than “Reality Check” – which is perfect for a “chase” poem in which the speaker can scarcely afford to stop to catch his breath. “Tergiversate” is surely the obscure word of the day but it, combined with the Burns quote, tell us much about a speaker who is obviously well-bred, educated, clever, terrified and slippery. One wonders what “rift”with his bride-to-be could have made the speaker turn tail and run? It’s also fun to see the hounds on the hunt but with the speaker self-described as a “cur” and facing more terrifying canines: wolves, who I assume are his disappointed intended’s family? The setting, the language (e.g. “hounds” rather than dogs) the quaintness of a broken engagement causing such drama — it feels 19th Century to me and it feels like an English countryside. I’d love to get your clarification on setting. As far as what happens in the last stanza… there’s a cliffhanger here. I’d like to know what happens next!

    • C.B Anderson

      I thank you, Brian, but you raise questions to which I have no good answers. For the setting, hounds are used in certain parts of the U.S. just as much as, if not more than, they are in England. When I lived in Arizona, on the Blue River, my next-door neighbors were world-famous hunters and guides, Clell and Dale Lee by name. Such hunts may happen anywhere. The wolves at the end might simply have been wolves. The poem itself is not of recent vintage, but I suspect that the hounds were figments of a bad conscience. I don’t know whether you have ever been beset with guilt and shame, but I can tell you that it’s not a pretty thing. I, too, would like to know what happened next, but I haven’t been given the details, so maybe I will just have to slip away.

  5. Shaun C. Duncan

    I’m a great fan of your work, C.B. and I think “Reality Check” is probably my favourite piece of yours that I’ve read. I initially thought I was in for something lighter in tone, so when the station wagon sank it was like a sudden cold shower. It put me in mind of the Susan Smith case from the mid-90s and another almost identical incident which happened here in Australia a few years back.

    “Hounds” is excellent as well, but I think I need a little more time to recover before I give that one a close reading.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I’ve been told, Shaun, that cold showers are good for us (if we can bear them). I’m glad you like what I do.

  6. Margaret Coats

    In agreement with Joseph Salemi (that the drowning of children is too somber), I take “Reality Check” as a surreal poem. “The Hunt” may be real, but presented in such a symbolic manner that I slip away from it more easily. Hope that is your intent, C. B.!

    • C.B. Anderson

      Surreal? I guess so. Part of this might be due to the fact that I tend to wander off point while trying to fulfill the demands of the form. I think “The Hunt” is fairly surreal as well. Symbols are usually better than cymbals.


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