Biography
by Chris Anderson

As a boy he used to tell his own story,
in his head, as if it had already happened,
like the biographies
in the World Books arrayed in the hall.

John Glenn’s, Jonas Salk’s.  
All the presidents.

Soon he began to have his own adventures,
though these he exaggerated.
They were just fragments, really:
a road, a bridge.
Her white skin on the leaves.

Then the succession of labors and cities and cars,
the house on the edge of the forest,
all the ceremonies and concerts and games,
until finally it was no longer his turn,
others came and took his place,
standing at the board the way he used to,
their sleeves rolled up like his.

It was only then, on a summer day,
walking towards the mouth of a river,
that he understood the heroism of rivers
as they flow into the sea and of streams
emptying into rivers and of rain
soaking into the earth.

Birds rustled in the alder, warblers
and thrushes and cedar waxwings,
and he thrilled to think that their adventure
was no less than his, no less than John Glenn’s,
that the very cells of his body,
whatever he willed,
were even then throwing themselves
into the only story there really is.










by Chris Anderson

Opie accidentally killed a mother bird with his slingshot
and Andy made him take care of the baby birds, feeding
them worms with tweezers.  At the end the chicks
were all grown up and Andy was standing on the porch
in his crisp, khaki uniform looking masculine and wise
the way he always did, sort of stern and compassionate
at the same time, and Opie realized he had to free the birds
from the cage he was keeping them in.  He had to let them go.  

You could see little Ron Howard’s blond eyelashes
as he bravely lowered his head.  He must have been five,
with those little boy shoulders all you want to do is squeeze.

All day that day these big spaces had been opening up
before me.  The halls were empty, nobody was around,  
and this void kept yawning beneath my feet,
these long hours of silence when I felt like the speakers
in the Psalms when they talk about their spirits fainting
and the enemy crushing them to the ground.  I didn’t know
what to do except just sit there until it was time to go home.

So I was ready for the way the show ended, though
I knew of course that this wasn’t really Mayberry and Andy
wasn’t really Opie’s father.  But I was ready and grateful.  

The cage sure seems empty, Opie said, when the birds had flown.
Yes, it does, Andy said.  But my, don’t the trees seem full.

Then the camera pulled up and away and we were in
the tree tops, and though there weren’t any birds there really,
there was a soundtrack of some birds chirping and bubbling  
and singing, and even after Andy put his arm around Opie
and they walked back into the house, I kept loving them
and thinking of my own sons when they were that age
and of my father, how sometimes I imagined him
in Andy’s uniform, with that crease in the trousers—
how Andy never wore a gun, even when he should have.




                    ____________________________


Chris Anderson is a professor of English at Oregon State University
and the author of twelve books, including a recent book of poetry,
My Problem with the Truth.  He has published poems in a number
of magazines.  Anderson is also a Catholic deacon and is active in
parish and campus ministry.


On “Biography”:
When I turned 50 I did the 30-day silent, Ignatian retreat at a
Jesuit retreat center on the Oregon Coast.  In the middle of that
very powerful experience, I was walking on the beach and suddenly
experienced a tremendous and unexpected joy—a joy that felt at
once very personal and very impersonal.  In a way the condition
of the joy was surrender to the fact of my own mortality and my
own implication in the great order and ecology of all the things
around me.  As I was thinking and feeling these things, the first
lines of this poem came to me—I think it was the third-person
point of view that really got me going, that really got me excited
and writing.

On “But My, Don’t the Trees Seem Full”:
This poem happened in pretty much the way the poem itself implies.  
I’d had a terrible and depressing day at the university, and when I
came home I watched
The Andy Griffith Show.  Lately, in the poetry
group that I’m a part of, I’ve been feeling the permission to write
about pop culture and to use pop culture as metaphor and point of
reference.  This is one of the first poems where I felt something
new (for me) resulting, something deeper than I’d been able to get
access to before.  The other thing that made this poem work in my
own mind was realizing, after the first few drafts, that I needed to
reverse the last two stanzas.  Boom.  Suddenly the poem seemed
much more mysterious and open-ended.  It was telling me
something I didn’t already know.  And of course, my father is
behind all of it.  That’s what surprised me, in the switching, this
very strong but unstated memory of the violence that my father
was sometimes capable of.


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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Literature
 

ISSN 1931-3888

Volume 2, Number 2
(Fall 2007)

Copyright © 2007
by Leah Browning, Editor.  

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Apple
Valley Review
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But My, Don’t the Trees
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