Five Poems

If Life Has Value

Then let us pray that God exerts his will
To undermine the plots of those who mean
To kill us.  Let their steaming entrails spill
In public view upon the village green
So no one will dispute the end result
Of going up against the master plan
In place.  When seasoned soldiers worth their salt
Turn out to vote, they're for it to a man.

The soul of unanimity is weak,
At best, if tendons in the upper hand
Are only poised to moderate and tweak,
Without the proper spirit to command
Obedience that's swift and absolute.

Good officers don't hesitate to shoot.



A Soldier's Soldier

Her bristly edges were the end-result
of deeper bruises, which lay hidden well
below the surface of her skin.  No fault
of hers, those inner traumas did not swell

and raise themselves like medals on the scarred,
dismembered veterans who had served a hitch
in Baghdad.  Typically she made it hard
for men to like her—they just saw the bitch,

and nothing else—but little did they know
of the belittlement she'd suffered through
while young: at first, because she didn't grow
at all for thirteen years; but then she grew

so quickly that her large ungainly feet
became the butt of constant ridicule…
until the rest of her caught up.  Complete
in all her parts, she took her peers to school

and taught them what it meant to toe the line
she'd drawn across the sand.  The Spartan gift
accorded them made sure they'd never whine,
no matter how much pain.  Her hand was swift

to render punishment, which served her well
when she commanded her own regiment
years after: Soldiers whom she put through hell
would learn to see her praise as heaven-sent.



The Fog of Demotic Stress

Some storms arise no prior calms portend,
And bound to face them, boys whom duty called,
The same young men who would, if asked, defend
Such acts of God as summer's brutal scald
Or winter's cold, though clearly they are both
Beyond discussion.  No one thirsts to be
A helpless victim or to swear an oath
That ushers in unending misery,
But sometimes one must bend to imperfections:
A nation ruled by lobbyists is one;
Another is emotion-charged elections
Instating smarmy fools in Washington.
     The process is a murky desert storm
     As noble as Antarctica is warm.



Conscientious Objectors

Let's do away with promises of hope
To institute a less abstracted culture
That's based on honest elbow grease and soap
And on descending spirals of the vulture,

A bird attuned to duty as it picks
A carcass clean until there's nothing left
But bones—the forces quartered at Fort Dix,
So we're convinced, would never be as deft

At sanitizing Nature's septic rooms.
When necks are placed upon the chopping block
Where souls must contemplate impending dooms,
Great comfort comes from knowing Ragnarok

Has been avoided.  Something clear and pure
Is recognized by gazes growing leaden
Before the final stroke: There is no cure
For phobias involving Armageddon

Except eternal rest.  We live, we labor,
And then we die.  From break of day till dusk,
We try our best to be the friendly neighbor
Remembered fondly once the mortal husk

Is six feet under.  When the call to battle
Arrives at last, when drums and trumpets split
The air asunder, we will be like cattle
On distant fields, which want no part of it.



In Our Lifetime

Someone (not I) once said that Peace will reign
When all our enemies are dead, which means
Don't hold your breath.  Though grim and inhumane,
The notion's not distressing to Marines

As willing to exchange their enemies
For newer ones as most of us are willing
To change the spark plugs, oil and antifreeze
That keep our engines running.  All the killing

Will stop when no one's left who cares to live
And idle hands find nothing to subdue.
When time comes to an end we will forgive
Each other: olives rise where thistles grew.

But won't this rosy recipe allow
Us to suspend hostility right now?

About C.B. Anderson

C.B. Anderson is the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden. Translation: He’s got dirt under his fingernails. In the summer of 2003 he read a poem by Don Paterson (“A Gift”) that drove him into the fine old tradition to which his neighbors reckon him a virtual slave—and he was only 54. He lives in eastern Massachusetts with his wife and two kids, who don’t know who he is anymore, and never will until they try to get published.