Distant Thoughts from Nearby

I need to turn my dog-ears up
__and harken to the quietude
____ignored for many years,
__and contemplate my solitude,
____expressing through my tears
Incautious songs that made me up.

My oldest friends will never know
__the thrall of certain moods I wear,
____the many twists and bends
__I put in made-up tales I swear
____are true, the gall that sends
Them out for all the world to know.

The brightest smiles are ones that say
__without a trace of fear or guile,
____“Please, have a seat right here,”
__then let me linger for a while;
____and when I have her ear
“You’re beautiful,” I like to say.

The kindest thing I’ve ever done
__was in some dim and shrouded room
____where death was at the door,
__when through that stale necrotic gloom
____I took her hand and swore:
Without her help, no work got done.

The plainest face I ever saw
__was lovely when it looked at me
____with adoration’s glow
__for some small favor given free;
____That look I’d later know
When I my children’s faces saw.

The darkest day I ever spent
__was when the old cathedral closed,
____and I don’t mean the one
__that people made, but one supposed
____to wear me out with fun—
The woods, I mean, that left me spent.

A final word we always get,
__a courtesy accorded to
____us death-row savages,
__to help us bear the brunt and do
____our best the ravages
Of time to stay, or just forget.



Bathtub Madonna

An artifact of simple faith,
Beyond derision or rebuke,
As typic as a farmer’s snathe,
As lucent as a verse from Luke,

The painted hollow shell displays
A likeness of the Virgin Mary,
Enrobed in blue and full of grace.
From Whitsuntide through February

It stands inside a backyard garden
Along with grapes and hollyhocks,
And there the faithful ask for pardon
Among the weeds and whitewashed rocks.

Beneath the old mulberry tree
Kneels Grandma in her woolen shawl,
Endowed with natural piety,
Transfigured by receptive awe.

Although she counts herself a sinner,
Few others think of her that way,
For when it’s time for Sunday dinner
She lingers in the yard to pray

Before that unpretentious shrine.
Less focused on her appetite
Than on the gift of light divine,
She magnifies the Roman rite.

                                              First published in The Rotary Dial (2017)



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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30 Responses

  1. Monika Cooper

    I love these. I wonder how and why the “old cathedral closed.” (I immediately thought of church closures in 2020 and going to see a priest for an appointment that March to find the building locked with a banishing sign on the door; I knew in my heart that I wouldn’t in this life see him again.) But this is the cathedral of woods. Yes, I’ve lost woods too . . .

    “Bathtub Madonna” aches with the melancholy beauty of poverty: blessed Gospel poverty. We recently moved from a historically Catholic neighborhood where, when we walked the blocks, saw many little Marian yard shrines, each different and yet all “typic” as your poem puts it. These “Grandmas” who keep the faith: I owe so much to mine. Your poem makes me think of Hardy somehow: his recovery of the archetypal in the common.

    • C.B Anderson

      Woods get closed down for a number of reasons, Monika. For one thing, the steward might decide that human traffic has had a deleterious effect on it. But more typically, woods are lost due to real estate development.

      When you “think of Hardy” I’m pretty sure you are not referring to the actor Tom Hardy. I still see these quaint shrines now and then, usually, one supposes, in the yards of Irish or Italian families who immigrated not too many generations ago.

      • C.B. Anderson

        I thank you, Monika, for the link. Now I understand certain things a lot better. I would say, however, that Tom Hardy is an actor worth taking note of.

      • Monika Cooper

        It must have been the line about “the farmer’s snathe” that brought Hardy’s world of traditional agriculture to mind.

        I will look Tom Hardy up. Movies and non-ancient music represent expanses of terrible ignorance on my part. Though, as with poetry, I sometimes think I should decrease my ignorance of the ancient in music before trying to catch up on newer compositions.

        Your books, however, are on my wish list. (Does “Bathtub Madonna” appear in either of them?)

      • C.B. Anderson

        “Bathtub Madonna” appears in my second book, Monika, Roots in the Sky, Boots on the Ground. If you want to know what formal poetry is all about, then find yourself a copy of the later edition of Richard Wilbur’s Collected Works.

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I am enamored with your beautifully worded poems and how they affect my senses–the first with similar insights and thoughts I feel, such as “My oldest friends will never know the thrall of certain moods I wear,” and the second for divine devotion from parents and grandparents that seems to be waning these days. I took inspiration from both of them.

    • C.B Anderson

      I’m glad they worked for you, Roy. And yes, there is so much we are losing or have already lost.

  3. James A. Tweedie


    Here you share a bit more of yourself than we usually get to see. And what we see is tenderness, beauty and affection bathed in a soft, twilight glow.

    A touch of the usual clever creativity but of the kind that draws me into deeper thoughts and memories of my own.

    Thank you for all of the above.

  4. C.B. Anderson

    I don’t quite know what came over me, James. I probably need to have my testosterone levels checked. There’s never too deep a thought, and our memories, howsoever distant, are always close to us. It was my pleasure to let these out of the bag.

  5. Brian A Yapko

    Both highly engaging and original poems, C.B., which I enjoyed immensely. “Bathtub Madonna,”in particular, is a very charming character portrait of a true lady – one who displays both faith and humility. I would love to see a picture of the “artifact of simple faith,” which I take it is not from an artisan but crafted out of a tub.

    “Distant Thought From Nearby” has an elusive tone supported by particularly interesting rhyme scheme/form with which I am unfamiliar – particularly in line 6’s repeat of the same end-word introduced in line 1. Is this a form you created? It works beautifully to convey a wistful thinking process – almost a meditation – on the subject introduced – as if the speaker can’t let it go. Arguably this is broken when you get to “get” and “forget” in the last stanza. There is a world-weary wisdom in this poem, and a certain acceptance of imperfections in the speaker and in others. I can’t help but feel this poem is about forgiveness. At least, that’s how I read “that final word we always get…”

    • C.B. Anderson

      If Evan had decided to run “Bathtub Madonna” first, then there might have been an image of that artifact at the top of the post. It’s probable that somewhere at some time an actual cast iron bathtub was sawn in half to create the requisite shell, but most are certainly fabricated from other materials.

      “Distant Thoughts ..” is definitely a nonce form. When it comes to a particular form being better able to “convey” a mood or an idea, … I don’t know. I think the content will shine forth no matter the form. The form, until the images and narrative are woven into it, is just an empty shell. I don’t know whether this poem is about forgiveness or not, unless it is the narrator attempting to forgive himself.

  6. Shaun C. Duncan

    Both are beautiful and moving poems, CB. I agree with Brian that the rhyme scheme in “Distant Thoughts…” is interesting but, as is often the case in your work, it becomes almost invisible because the words themselves are so captivating. “Bathtub Madonna” perfectly captures the humble beauty of folk Catholicism which, as you point out, magnifies the Roman rite, rather than being simply a pale reflection of it.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I’m glad, Shaun, that the rhyme scheme is “almost invisible.” I’m sure you would believe it if I told you how much “force” is required to replicate the structure through seven stanzas. Per your last thought, such humble manifestations of high holy mysteries are indeed “beyond derision or rebuke.”

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    The alternation of tetrameter and trimeter lines in the first poem, along with the limitation of the A rhyme to the first and last lines, ties each stanza together like a cat’s cradle of string — seemingly tangled, but in fact very precisely coherent. Notice also that stanzas 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 all begin with superlative adjectives (“oldest,” “brightest,” “kindest”), which allows the poet to focus a laser-like beam on something deeply important in his experience.

    I love “Bathtub Madonna,” because it reminds me of so many little patches of carefully tended ground — hardly big enough to be called gardens — in the working-class part of Queens where I grew up. It could have been the Virgin Mary, or St. Anthony, or the Sacred Heart, or St. Rosalia of Palermo. They were small and beautiful, neatly maintained, and often flanked by a white rose bush and a red one.

    Also, the ABAB quatrains in the poem are perfectly chiselled. And the lines

    As typic as a farmer’s snathe,
    As lucent as a verse from Luke

    are unusual, striking, and unexpected. That kind of text-weaving is one of the hardest things to pull off in poetry.


    • C.B. Anderson

      As it happened, Joseph, once I had come up with a rhyme for “faith,” it was just a matter of concatenating a number of apposite images to push the poem forward. You know what it’s like to have ink fairly gushing from your pen. The first poem was written over a decade ago, when I was spending a lot of time fooling around with nonce forms.

  8. Cynthia Erlandson

    I especially love “Bathtub Madonna” (though I’m not sure exactly what one is). “As lucent as a verse from Luke”; “Although she counts herself a sinner, / Few others think of her that way,”; the rhyming of Mary with February; and all of the beautiful imagery — especially verse 3 — are some of my favorite parts. I also seem to sense that the beauty and poignancy are laced with a very subtle, gentle humor (or lightheartedness?)

    • Cynthia Erlandson

      Thanks, C.B. I’m sure I’ve seen some similar ones, but didn’t know they had a name.

  9. Christopher Lindsay

    I liked these lines especially:
    As lucent as a verse from Luke,
    She magnifies the Roman rite. [Does this refer to Rome or the book of Romans?]

    Also liked the 9 syllable line with the feminine ending in this line:
    A likeness of the Virgin Mary,

    • C.B. Anderson

      The Roman rite as opposed to the Eastern rite; in other words, the Roman Catholic Church as contrasted with the Orthodox Church. I don’t know what fine points of doctrine these two hierarchies still differ about, and I don’t know whether they still argue about transubstantiation vs. consubstantiation, but clearly no one makes as much of Mary as the Romans do.

  10. Margaret Coats

    Both poems are thoughtful and enjoyable reading.

    “Distant Thoughts From Nearby” reads like a swan song of not very unified vignettes. You seem to look forward to them in the first stanza as “Incautious songs that made me up.” It would seem more rational, if less serious, to say “that I made up.” The speaker is either nonchalant about his approaching end that is not yet too close, or he faces it with self-reflective bravado.

    “Bathtub Madonna” is a complementary and clearly developed picture of pious tradition persevering in action. It shows how an individual can take archetypal sacred space and re-create it on a personal level, partly through selection of elements like the holy image, but more through genuine devotional use that consecrates the personal space. Your “typic” is more than just “typical.” Anthropologist of religion Mircea Eliade says human beings cannot live except in sacred space and time, and thus make it for themselves if need be. Your final line is an excellent recognition of this point: the devout woman thrives on the Roman Rite, extending it as she goes.

    As a logical distributor of Roman Rite calendars, I had to smile at “From Whitsuntide through February.” What happens in the spring months not included here?

    • C.B. Anderson

      I suppose, Margaret, that “incautious songs that made me up” is there just for the purpose of reversing the expected. Who knows what I was thinking over a decade ago when I wrote it? I wondered myself what happens to it from March to Whitsuntide. I think I just wanted to include the greater portion of of the church year, but maybe they bring it inside in March for a good spring cleaning.

  11. Warren Bonham

    Excellent as always. I liked the use of the 5 superlatives in Distant Thoughts (oldest friends, brightest smiles, kindest thing, etc.) and the way it was all tied together. Very clever.

    • C.B. Anderson

      If you like superlatives, Warren, then puzzle this one out:

      At one time there were two train stations in Boston, the North Station and the South Station. At one time the South Station was the largest train station in the world, but was not the largest train station in Boston.

      • Warren Bonham

        The best I can come up with is that the 2 sentences are referring to different points in time. This makes it theoretically possible that the South Station may not always have been in Boston (maybe the city annexed that property at a later date). If it wasn’t in Boston, it could have been the largest in the world while not being the largest in Boston until some later point in time. Any chance that’s correct?

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        My two cents here — I do know that Boston gobbled up a huge number of smaller outlying communities and made them part of Boston proper.

      • C.B Anderson

        No, Warren. The logical propositions are synchronic. This is a superlative problem with a comparatively simple solution: When comparing two items, a comparative adjective is required. South Station was the larger train station in Boston, not the largest.

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