Scott Edward Anderson – three poems

Calculated Risk

There’s evidence accounting goes back to the days
of Mesopotamia, bookkeeping to ancient Iran,
even audits conducted by Egyptians and Babylonians.
Of course, Romans perfected rendering unto Caesar;
while the Brits made accounting a profession.

Computare is the numbers game,
compter is the one who counts.
An accountant reckons by calculation
and settles one’s accounts.

Acountancy is for neither faint of heart
nor eye; although the accounting firm
that accounts for my day job
doesn’t see fit to supply eye insurance.

Somehow, this doesn’t add up to me.
I mean, wouldn’t you want to insure
the one thing making sure all the numbers compute?

Alas, just as there’s no accounting for taste,
there’s no counting on such things as common sense.

My Friend Finch
(For Don Paterson, after his “House”)

My friend Finch visits me each Tuesday,
When he knows I ought to write a poem,
Telling his stories in an illuminated way.
A Samaritan, he once worked for Home-
Land Security, designed surveillance
Systems to guard against terrorists;
Now, a person of interest, helping freelance
In a way that, by and large, consists
Of violent measures ably performed
By three friends, Mr. Reese, Fusco, and Shaw.
And then there’s Root; she’s a nut-job, informed
By the system he created, a flaw.
Still, if I’m in danger or threat mortal,
I only hope it’s Finch who gets the call.

The Line Between Apocrypha and Truth

My mother’s parents were a handsome couple.
They resembled the young Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz:
Marjorie’s hair swept behind her ears, curly and fair, like her complexion;
Eddie’s pomade jet over hazelnut forehead and eyes of obsidian,
his rakish grin a razor, not yet succumbing to society.

(The line between apocrypha and truth is easily crossed,
but like the tree–line on a mountain top,
once you cross it, there’s no doubt…)

My grandfather’s sister told me a story
about my grandparents, about how they came together.
It seems Eddie was sweet on Marjorie’s sister,
pursued her, with his sad, dark eyes.
When she showed little interest, Eddie took Marjorie out to a dance.

Marjorie got pregnant. Eddie’s mother threw a pot at him.
“Vergonha! Shame on You!” she shouted. “You gotta marry her now!”
Some months later, Marjorie had a miscarriage.
(My own mother waves me away when I repeat this story.
I can tell I’ve crossed the line, but on which side do I stand?)

Scott Edward Anderson is the author of Fallow Field (Aldrich Press, 2013) and Walks in Nature’s Empire (The Countryman Press, 1995). You can follow him on Twitter @greenskeptic and check out more about him at


Scott Edward Anderson – three poems

A Personal History of Violence

I only lost two fights in my youth.
The first, age 13; his name was Tom.
He said a girl I liked was flat-chested.
True, but I hated him saying it.
He had a long thumbnail that caught me
on the eyelid, blood and sweat
pooled together so I couldn’t see.
We wrestled to the ground and I conceded.

The other, a year or two later;
my father, my opponent, was pissed
in both senses, as often the case.
He caught me sneaking out to a concert
he’d forbidden me to attend.
He made me tear up the tickets,
after nearly putting my head
through the living room wall.

The last fight I ever had in school,
I’d overreacted, perennial hothead,
almost made a junior classmate one with a locker,
grip closing in on his throat.
Then I heard my brother’s voice or my memory of it,
“Dad, what are you doing?! Dad?!”
And I let go, smoothed my classmate’s shirt,
walked away—.

“Years Are Not a Life”

Everything develops at its own pace,
rivers erode the nearest bank, slowly
over time, washing away silt and sorrow.
Years are not a life: whether spent
sequestered in a smoke-filled room,
knitting afghans for grandchildren,
walking two miles to the meat-packing plant,
or learning how to feel the passion
of an abiding friendship—.

“Whatever it is that fills life up,
and fills it full, it is not time,” she says.
Her husband ignores her, reads the golf scores.
“Years are not a life.”
Half-baked on drugs and electric shock treatments.
“To have a rich, full life
every woman should own a pair of red shoes
and have a breakdown.”
Cada coisa a seu tempo.
(Everything in its own time.)

Bo’man Burgess

“Nathan Burgess: He likes work,” reads the caption.
At the age of ten, he signed on as a cabin-boy
aboard the bark Sunbeam, a whaler
bound for Newfoundland; then the Greyhound,
several square-riggers, tramp steamers and the Navy.
“I made three trips around the Horn,”
he told a reporter from the Sun Chronicle.
Short-order cook, street-car conductor,
woodchopper, insurance man:
“Work and I were always good friends.”

As a “bo’man” on the Greyhound,
he had to keep the ropes straight
after the harpoon was thrown.
If the whale dove, he had to cut the lines,
or the whaleboat would go under.
“Whaling was a tough life: 24–hour work
and you slept in bunks loaded with grease.
But if anyone else could do it, so could I—
lots of times, I got the worst of it.”

On our Sunday visits, my mother’s grandfather,
Nathan Lewis Burgess, always told stories
and displayed his tattoos. “Whale meat
had a gamey taste, like deer meat,” he liked to say.
Between the knuckles of his fingers
were tiny blue ink rings, a kind of crypto–calligraphy.

One day, I got up the courage to ask
what those tattoos were.
He made sure his wife wasn’t looking,
and laced his hands together so the fingers intertwined.
Now I could see that each finger bore a solitary letter.
Apart, the letters meant nothing,
but when so displayed — profanity!
We laughed out loud. “Papa! Don’t show that to the boy!”
Grandma Burgess yelled from the parlor,
where she sat at the pump organ, playing hymns
and Stephen Foster tunes all through our visits.

Scott Edward Anderson is the author of Fallow Field (Aldrich Press, 2013) and Walks in Nature’s Empire (The Countryman Press, 1995). You can follow him on Twitter @greenskeptic and check out more about him at