Two Poems

by Benjamin Cutler Issue: Fall 2017 Special Issue on Extinction

A Tomato Sandwich for the End-Times

It will secure, for centuries, millions of seeds representing every important crop variety available in the world today. It is the final backup. - “Svalbard Global Seed Vault,”

When the world ends as the prophets of science,
scripture, and pop-culture have foretold, you should hope
to find yourself on Svalbard—north of the Norwegian mainland,
a frozen island where the world is white enough to seem new.
Under the blue-frost crust, you will find an embryonic Eden
on ice—a cavernous vault
                                               of metal and stone where all our seeds
are kept. By our I mean us. All of us. All the seeds. Over 150,000
varieties of wheat alone—some high in protein, others tolerant
to heat—each species and subspecies at subzero temperatures
so that when the end-times come (Call it Ragnarök; you’re in Norway,
after all), you might still have your bread.
                                                                            And, in this apocalypse-
ready icebox, every tomato you know and dozens more you don’t:
determinate and indeterminate, grapes and cherries, Cherokee
Purples, the aptly named Arctic Rose—enough heirlooms
for every family tree lost to flame. To prove you were meant
for this era, you’ll have to make
                                                           your sandwich yourself:
sharpen a bone-handle knife on a spit-wetted stone, then slice
your bread and tomato of choice. Without eggs and oil,
you’ll have to hold the mayo, but the vine-ripened fruit
will be sweet enough as you eat alone on a snow mound
for one—hope softening against the roof of your mouth.

Peeling Bark for Bread

The bark of trees can be made into bread.

The Sami people of northern Scandinavia—
who have thrived in ice for thousands of years
by herding reindeer and pulling fish from
the frozen sea, but who were nearly wiped out
in the early 20th century through illegalization
of their language and forced sterilization
of their women—would carve away a birch’s
inner skin and dry the flesh next to the fire
before grinding into flour, mixed with wheat
or rye, for baking dark brown rounds.

I learned this when I was ten from some made-for-tv
documentary, the name of which I cannot now recall,
and was certain then that I could produce
the same result with my mother’s adolescent dogwood.
This was a Gulf Coast Pink—North Carolina
native, though not as common as white—
so I knew it would yield a superior taste.
I retrieved Dad’s flat-nose shovel from the shed,
pressed blade against bark at the level of my hips,
and flayed off a sheet to the level of my knees,

the fresh wound as pale and damp as oiled dough.
I would never know, though, would never
grind smoked bark or knead double-handfuls
into oven-ready mounds. Mom insisted, in grief
and rage, her dogwood would die—so young then,
so deeply cut and exposed as it was. But within a year,
splintered edges smoothed to lips—open and silent—
which, with each green season, have drawn inward
until all that now remains is the suggestion of a kiss
or something unsaid. And when bloom-time comes,

folia rises bright—as full as leavened loaves under sun.

Benjamin Cutler

Benjamin Cutler is an English and creative writing teacher at Swain County High School in western North Carolina and an adviser for the global educational non-profit ​​Narrative 4—an organization that seeks to cultivate a more empathetic citizenry through the exchanging of personal narratives. Benjamin was accepted into the North Carolina Poetry Society’s 2017 Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series, and his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Witness: Appalachia to Hatteras, Cider Press Review, Wild Goose Poetry Review, and The Carolina Quarterly. When he is not teaching, writing, or playing with his four children, Benjamin is trying to keep his honeybees alive.