Benjamin Cutler, Three Poems

Wild Goose Poetry Review, No 33, Fall 2017


THE PATH TO BEES

Dad liked to let the weeds grow to feed the bees,
but he didn’t call them weeds—never would:

daisies, daffodils, buttercups, and dandelions
tall and puffed. The grass grew, too,

and Mom would shake her head while tall,
green-ribbon clusters shuddered in the breeze.

You could see the path to bees from the back
porch steps, a yellowed sparseness, stretched

and narrow. He walked it once a day and
sometimes more to watch them land, with

pollen-pebbled thighs, to dance-speak in pine-
box palaces dressed with comb. The first mow:

Dad walked in determined lines, thunder in his hands
like some old-world god purging creation

to begin anew, an extinction event, shins stained
with sweat and slough. He erased the path to bees

last. Dimming its edges, Dad stopped at the hives,
let go the handle, let the thunder die so he could

hear the hum, a daisy left standing at each
entrance where a lady might brush it on her

leaving or returning.

 

Author’s Comment: The “Dad” in this poem is me, and my patient wife does indeed shake her head as I delay the season’s first mow. I would rather watch the bees in their industry than push their flowers under the blade. Keeping bees has become an obsession of mine over the past few years. So full of mystery and metaphor and requiring caution and patience, honeybees have taught me a great deal about writing poetry.

 


 

BUILDING FIRE

When still of an age to fear
the dark, my son was a builder of fires—

small pits of broken brick and fist-sized
stones as clean and pale as boiled bone

arranged to ring a nest of kindling:
bowlful of straw and autumn-seasoned leaves.

This was always an independent venture.
He would find the matches, regardless of where

hidden, and after breaking one or two
against the lighting

strip, one would catch,
and he would set it to his work.

This is the moment
I would discover him—

adding twigs the size of finger bones,
cheek against the earth

with lips puckered and puffing for bellows—
the moment of burning flare through gray ribbon.

And this is how he learned
the virtue of his breath:

brightness when exhaled
and darkness when withheld.

And for this reason I would not scold,
but, rather, gather dry fuel

and warm my hands next to his.

 

Author’s Comment: I have a hard time punishing independence and ingenuity, and I enjoy a campfire as much as my son does.

 


 

ABSOLUTION AT THE TRASH COMPACTOR

Pull up in your pickup and he steps out from
his one-man shack, hat-rim haloing cloudy locks,

and comments on season and sun, how
the days are too warm for so little light—

laconic intonation as you heft
ritual refuse onto his alter.

If your offering is too large,
unorthodox in its bulk and form,

he sends you to another dumpster
or turns you away entirely.

But if what you’ve brought
is of the usual sort—

fatty bones of bull or bird, breads
in variety, fine flour and grains,

or synthetic fragments that last
longer than death,

all plastic-packed in incensed sacks—
he tells you to lay on, and with the press

of a button (blood-red
like you’ve always imagined),

sets the beast to a slow chew.
Your waste compacts

like forgotten memory
into a damp and unseen shape.

As you pull away, he lifts his hand,
as dusty and rough as a tablet of stone—

your truckload lighter,
though the spoil-scent lingers.
Author’s Comment: In my poetry, I’m often interested in how the workaday can become ritual, and taking the trash to the dump–with its routine, alter, offering, and officiant–has become, for me, something close to ceremony.

 


Bio: Benjamin Cutler was raised on a riverbank in the mountains of western North Carolina. He is an English and creative writing teacher at Swain County High School, and, in conjunction with his work as a teacher, Benjamin is also an advisor 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, and The Carolina Quarterly. When he is not teaching, writing, or playing with his four children, Benjamin is trying to keep his honeybees alive.


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