Third-Degree Burns

A young poet who came from Dundee
Looked around him and then took a knee,
__For the older he grew
__The more surely he knew
That accomplishment wasn’t to be.

But another lad, whom we’ll call Angus,
Who was wont to berate and harangue us,
__Said, “They want to write laws
__To remove all our claws,
But, by Jesus, they’ll never de-fang us.”

And this story, my friend, has a moral
With which no working poet should quarrel:
__As for not having tried,
__It were better you’d died
Making effort to vie for the laurel.



Growing Pains

“Let’s grow some vegetables.”  It sounded good
At first, so we prepared the soil the way
The cloth-bound garden book advised we should,
Then sowed our seeds and set out plants the day

And month they indicated on their chart.
The seeds emerged on schedule, all the plants
Took root, and waiting seemed the hardest part …
Until one morning we observed by chance

The perforated leaves with here and there
A nibbled edge.  “A dose of rotenone
Will put a stop to that, so don’t despair,”
Our neighbor told us in a knowing tone,

And he was right.  Around the end of June
The woodchucks found us, taking all the peas
And cabbages and carrots.  None too soon,
We set our traps, the kind designed to please

The staunchest bleeding-heart.  We used as bait
Plain peanut butter, finding that our apt
Solution raised more issues.  We could wait
Until they starved to death where they were trapped

Or … you know what.  It was illegal to
Transport them, but we did it anyway,
Since there was little sport in shooting through
A cage.  They’d spared the eggplants and toma-

Toes, leaving us a little bit of hope,
But then we noticed that the leaves on all
The Better Boys were turning yellow, taupe,
And finally a shriveled brown.  The call

We made to the Extension Service went
Unanswered, but our neighbor helped us right
Away, informing us, when he had bent
To take a look, “Too bad. A fungal blight.”

If what you’re looking for is to abate
Your boredom or to sate an appetite
For existential pain, then cultivate
A garden—challenge Nature to a fight.



CAT Scan

Every poet should write at least one cat poem.

For every thought that dogs a restive mind,
There is a cat that rubs against the shin
Expecting flexed fingers to deal a kind
Response behind the ear or under chin.

Our bending low to tender token kindness
Is like a prayer for Someone to forgive
The times we hurried by, pretending blindness,
The shame of which is likely to outlive
Us if we fail to mend our careless ways.

The dogs are always there to sniff us out
And hound us from the dens of our malaise,
But trust the cats to show what life’s about:

The strokes they crave evoke the giver’s power
While they enjoy another pleasant hour.

first published in SP Quill (2005)



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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22 Responses

  1. Roy Eugene Peterson

    “Third-Degree Burns” fits the perpetual efforts of poets to write the best they can to point out the fallacies and failures of society and culture and strive to provide the grist to change the thinking of their institutional denizens affected by malaise and misconstruing of important information. The moral of “As for not having tried,__It were better you’d died Making effort to vie for the laurel.,” is one I applaud.

    I recognize your gardening expertise and the marvelous way you informed us of many of the things that can go wrong as the growing season progresses. Your wisdom is perfectly applied–we amateur gardeners cannot seem to anticipate all the things that can destroy our garden and are late in the applications. Although it seemed humorous, I detect a lot of sincerity in this poem and even learning yourself from experience.

    I love the title, “Cat Scan.” I have written several poems about dogs and cats, have had both as pets, and had to laugh at your excellent portrayal of them with perfectly fitting words.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I’m glad these clicked for you, Roy. Being, in some limited sense, a Scottish poet myself, I have a lot to complain about. We must all stand fast.

      Gardening is such that even the most experienced gardener can be surprised by the unexpected. I remember two decades ago when the scarlet lily beetle first hit our shores — devastation!

      Sometimes it seems like the whole world is nothing but a huge altercation between cats and dogs.

      • Julian D. Woodruff

        A fine trio, CB. I want to recommend to you an old movie (pretty old, that is–from the ’60s), called Crazy Quilt. It may be hard to find, but worth the hunt. I don’t remember it as a whole, but its 1st 5 minutes or so are a great parallel to “Growing Pains.”

  2. Phil S. Rogers

    Enjoyed reading all three poems, as I sit here with our big orange ‘Maxi’ cat
    purring in my lap. Thank you!

    • C.B. Anderson

      Which raises the question, Phil: Who is the master and who is the pet?

  3. Warren Bonham

    All great and I even enjoyed the cat poem, despite despising them for most of my life. The first two particularly hit the mark with me. Producing anything worthwhile is a fight whether with fear, nature, bleeding hearts, or bureaucrats. Even though it seems pointless at times, we must fight on.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Yes, Warren, we must press on regardless — on all fronts. Especially if God seems to be sitting out the latest conflict. Even God takes a day of rest now and then.

  4. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    C.B., I love this trio of poetic treats, although, I must admit that “Growing Pains (great title) has dampened my desire to grow tomatoes and okra. In fact after reading your highly entertaining, but oh-so-true poem I’m abandoning the idea entirely. Your wise and beautifully wrought words and Jeremy Clarkson’s “Farm” series have killed any yearnings for home-grown fare.

    “CAT Scan” (another great title) sums up the quirks of cats and dogs to a tee. Mike and I are loyal servants to King George Lionel, our nineteen-year-old fickle feline – a magical creature who has requested a poetry series in his honor. After reading your poem, I will attempt just the one. As always, thank you for the smiles and the inspiration.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Don’t give up, Susan. Tomatoes grow like weeds, and as the man said: There’s only two things that money can’t buy, and that’s true love and homegrown tomatoes. Okra should be easy where you live — just pick them smsll.

      Maybe the ancient Egyptians had it right: Cats demand our subservience and we often give it to them. Lionel deserves more than just a set of model electric trains.

      • Adam Sedia

        I tried growing okra last year for the first time, and will plant it again. The plants are intriguing: beautiful leaves and flowers. Plus it gave me an excuse to make gumbo.

      • Susan Jarvis Bryant

        C.B. and Adam, you’ve convinced me. I’m going to give it a go. I’m especially intrigued by the okra. I have become a fan of gumbo since moving to Texas… what used to be a weird word in a line of a song is now on my menu, and I am fired to kick up the recipe with a bit of home-grown delight. Thank you!

  5. Shamik Banerjee

    I like all three pieces. Growing Pains, in addition to being a well-crafted short story, conveys its underlying message very smoothly. The idea that any pursuit made in order to eliminate life’s mundanity or simply fulfil a craving attracts innumerable challenges is profound. We experience this in our day-to-day lives. One of my aunts has recently started planting cabbages, and the barrage of complaints that she has been hurling regarding rodents and other pets seems endless already. 

    Of all the cat poems I’ve ever read, “CAT scan,” though a humorous piece, delivers a very powerful message—we, the giver, have power. As a person whose house is ruled by three cats presently, I truly know what it’s like to live with them and to fulfill duties as a paw massager. They are my world!

    Thank you for these beautiful pieces, Mr. Anderson.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Once your aunt, Shamik, has learned how do defeat the garden marauders, she will be very pleased with herself for having grown her own food.

      If she is troubled by rodents, then she should enlist the aid of your cats.

      I’m glad these resonated with you and your life experiences.

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    “Third-Degree Burns” is beautiful, and I’m glad to see that poets are getting comfortable with the idea of using the limerick as a stanza form in brief narratives or commentaries. The nice thing about a limerick is that it is one of easiest things to write, and each one carries an epigrammatic finish.

    “Growing Pains” reminds me of why the only edibles I try to grow are parsley and basil — absolute essentials for Italian cooking. My grandparents grew figs, but that was a laborious operation. We’re not troubled by woodchucks here in New York City, but stray cats and their proclivity to use flower beds and turned earth as toilets infuriate me, so I will not comment at all on “CAT Scan.”

    • C.B. Anderson

      It’s good to be able to tell a limerick from a lime rickey and have a sense of their respective proper uses. I’m sorry, Joseph, that you have problems with cats. You might want to consider getting an aggressive dog. When it comes to writing your own cat poem, you might have forgotten but I already wrote one for you. It goes like this:


      I can’t abide a cat,
      And that, my friend, is that.

  7. Cynthia Erlandson

    Like Joseph, I love the fun way you’ve used the limerick form in “Third Degree Burns” (especially rhyming “Angus” and “harangue us”).

    • C.B. Anderson

      And I would ask you, Cynthia, is there any way to use a limerick that is not fun?

  8. Brian A. Yapko

    These three poems are great fun, C.B. I greatly appreciate the character of Angus in your Third Degree Burns poem (great title with a nice Scottish nod.) He’s got a spine. We need more such poets!

    “Growing Pains” is giving me some reflux. I’m a very lousy, frustrated amateur gardener who is constantly tormented by one species or another (and not just homo sapiens, which is a totally different poem.) I have no idea why my hibiscus leaves won’t stop turning yellow. I recently ran screaming from a fungus called “Dead Man’s Fingers.” I have fire ant bites in several places. I overwater, I underwater, I overfertilize. Oddly, the plants that seem to do best are the ones I ignore completely.

    As for “Cat Scan,” I’m a dog person for the most part, but I had one enormously fat cat who was my dedicated companion for years and you describe him to a tee. This study of dogs and cats made me laugh and remember T.S. Eliot.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Forget T.S. Eliot, Brian, and seek the advice of local experts to counter the chlorosis you see on your hibiscus. Benign neglect sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. Right now, I have no cats, no dogs, not even a parakeet or a goldfish, and I am happier for it. Pets have less promise than children, but are just as much work.

  9. jd

    Enjoyed all three poems, especially “Cat Scan” which is a clever title too. Think I
    will copy it and send to a cat-lover friend.

    • C.B. Anderson

      I, too, like cats, but feel no need to be responsible for one of them.

  10. Adam Sedia

    I am allergic to cats, and will never have one, but I still can appreciate your poem, particularly for its bitingly clever use of pun. As an avid vegetable gardener myself, “Growing Pains” spoke to me in a special way. I particularly enjoyed its closing line.


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