Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Outside Longyearbyen, eight hundred
miles from the North Pole, scientists,
counting and envisioning the cost
of past and future disasters—even
Syria’s civil war—Aleppo’s seed bank
destroyed by bombing 2015—
have tucked into a mountainside,
ensured in permafrost, ample space
for four and a half billion critical
crop seeds worldwide. If the worst
should happen, this backup collection
will safeguard vegetation.
Or is it all mere speculation—
no place feasible but the hereafter.
But how to disentangle ourselves
from earthly (Arctic) time and space?
Standing in front of the entrance
to the doomsday seed vault,
something about it putting a halt
to doubt, I began envisioning
what the seeds are all about.
Was it too late to practice faith?
Dalal from Kuwait had brought
seeds from her desert home,
assuming she could contribute
them right there and then.
Tottering on the threshold
of before and after, I prayed
for faith as small as that biblical
mustard seed. Immerse myself,
I coaxed, in the hope of seeds,
that someday planted,
they can reverse the damage.
Feeling a thirst for roots,
recalling the burning bush—
how thorns and thistles are not
the earth’s original natural fruit—
I wished upon a seed deposited
just then in the scat of that snow
bunting warbling and hunting
insects beside the mountain stream
flowing past the global seed vault,
toward the sea, under the midnight sun.
After Reading Steps Toward a Small Theory of the Visible by John Berger
Frightening me the most
is the global appetite for more—
that mirage, a ghost into which
the body, the existent, vanishes.
Who desires to be disembodied?
Free of all that is required,
to dwell in unreality,
the virtual, in isolation?
I’d rather remain in the natural domain
of necessity, zoom in with paper
and pen to save things from chaos,
abandon everything else, become
receiver from now until the end,
collaborate and celebrate
each unique created being
as it emerges out of darkness,
be devoted to the existent,
persistent in willingness
to become more receptive,
let my own body intensify
as the appeal and energy
of every other creature enters me.
Let all transient, virtual things
around me vanish. I will listen
to each written river, mountain,
flower, bird and remember—carry on
a dialogue with each one—
in this way elude the deathly solitude,
false images and disembodied
of these times, instigating hope
by writing the existent—
my final act of resistance.
Note on “Svalbard Global Seed Vault”: In 2015, the first withdrawal was made by researchers in Syria after their seedbank in Aleppo was destroyed by bombing. Those seeds have since been sent to Morocco and Lebanon, where they’ll be planted and used to research how to grow crops in the arid region.
Note on “After Reading Steps Toward a Small Theory of the Visible by John Berger”: the quote in stanza 3 is from Shitao, a 17th century painter.
Diana Woodcock teaches composition, creative writing, and environmental literature in Qatar at Virginia Commonwealth University’s branch campus. She is the author of Tread Softly (FutureCycle Press, 2018), Under the Spell of a Persian Nightingale (Word Poetry Books, 2015), and Swaying on the Elephant’s Shoulders (Little Red Tree Publishing, 2011), winner of the 2011 Vernice Quebodeaux Pathways Poetry Prize for Women. One of her poems was performed live onstage in Lincoln Park, San Francisco at Artists Embassy International’s 21st Dancing Poetry Festival, and she was included in Best New poets 2008. Prior to teaching in Qatar, she worked for nearly eight years in Tibet, Macau and on the Thai/Cambodian border. Woodcock is a native Virginian and a doctoral candidate (Creative Writing) at Lancaster University.