Highlighted by the New England Poetry Club
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Meet Our January Poet in the Spotlight: Mary Buchinger

Highlighted by the New England Poetry Club

Mary Buchinger is the author of three collections of poetry, e i n f ü h l u n g/in feeling (2018), Aerialist (2015), and Roomful of Sparrows (2008); her work has appeared in AGNI, DIAGRAM, Gargoyle, Nimrod, PANK, Salamander, SAND, Slice, The Cortland Review, The Massachusetts Review, Versal, and anthologized in Gutters and Alleyways: Perspectives on Poverty and StruggleHomesickness and Exile; The QuietingWords to Cure the Tameness; and elsewhere. She was a featured reader at the Library of Congress, the Sugarfactory in The Netherlands, the Boston National Poetry Month Festival at the Boston Public Library, Le Poisson Rouge in New York, the Parker House School Street Sessions in Boston, Cambridge Public Library, and was the Thoreau Bicentennial Poet at the Concord Public Library. She has presented her work in London, Sydney, Salzburg, Brooklyn, Chicago, Washington DC, San Diego, Portland, Seattle, among other places.

She has received numerous awards, including the Varoujan and the Houghton Prizes, a prize from the Virginia Poetry Society, a Cambridge Poetry Prize, multiple nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, as well as two Spencer Foundation grants, a Massachusetts Arts Council grant, and a Norton Island Writing Residency. Her poetry was chosen for the Raining Poetry Project on Boston sidewalks and will be permanently installed in the city of Cambridge, where she has served as a Cambridge Poetry Ambassador. Mary grew up on a farm in Michigan, was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ecuador, and holds a doctorate in Linguistics from Boston University. Mary Buchinger (Bodwell) is Professor of English and Communication Studies at MCPHS University in Boston and President of the New England Poetry Club.

Photo attribution: Suzanne Teesdale
Poetic Profession   
Poetry is a foothold for me. I am not a rock climber, except in the way that we all are. I love my sleep. In it I rappel down from great heights. I ease the rope through my hands, kick off the cliff, generous and lively views to my right and left, I fly free! True to my single experience of real-life rappelling, the rope is too short, and I wake dangling above a cold deep, a roiled blue, the vertical slope of day rises before me—and poetry! I place my foot and begin.
Navigating the Reach
— Originally published in The Helix

Off the coast of Maine
on remote Norton Island
a month after my father died
the moon has yet to practice
this particular loss
I know I’d seen it quartered
like this before  but this
waning after blooming
full strawberry   summer
solstice in the city—
and I now islanded beneath
the naked spurs of stars
      When someone dies
       he is not prodigal
  but grief comes round
like the tide   swollen
then tattered in retreat
today in its wake   ropes—
braided and frayed
knotted to a hollow jug
or snaking empty
   ropes  useless  stranded 
on rocks—rocks   immovable
truths   complicate everything
    I watch my step
having learned through slipping
the slickness of the black algae
on these creviced granite slopes
I’m told this is a reach
that I’m looking into    
    and the island’s joined at low
tide with another by
a gut—mucky crossing
for deer  sheep  mice
All day  thrushes
here  drop silver coins
into little silver cups  
  my father loved to whistle
ribboning the air   abide
with me   bicycle-built-
for-two    you make me
happy when skies are grey
I watch a raccoon wash
its paws between boulders  
  ocean shimmering beyond
its hunched shoulders   emerald
forest at its back    the kitchen
trash bags  ransacked
My Michigan girl-dream
of tide pool    wildly off 
I could not know—
    and now face to face
with the real thing  the startling
ruddy blue calico
the many  many  mouths
opening   pops of seaweed
sea lice   barnacles—I take in
Atlantic air   sun-thick  salt-damp
to sit like this and receive
receive   never  would I
have dreamed this light-
lending inflorescence
how much we can’t foresee
I watch two translucent
dime-sized crabs scuttle
in a bottoming-out rivulet
a shadow-filled shrimp pushes
away with its army of legs
  lone detached lobster claw
At dinner someone asks 
Was your father
an extraordinary man?
   Extraordinary? I don’t—
don’t know  He was mine
and I loved him
The trail through this mossy rock-
and mud-floored forest
is marked by buoys  
impaled on broken limbs
  half-buoys   trawler-bit buoys
glow orange and turquoise
suspended debris  heart-height
as displaced as a childhood memory
of holding his hand   playing
with his ring  the smell of his pipe
the cherry tobacco   buoys
strangely guide me here
among trick traps of sadness
still   sometimes   the deer—
  unseen except for their paths
of crushed and pawed moss—  
tempt me to stray
to lay my cheek down
on the uneasy  green 
I tell myself I have to get
my bearings   as if it’s a matter
of walking a perimeter
  establishing direction
finding where the sun will sink
When the path takes me
to an open flushed-out cove
an eagle swoops down
like a broadhanded sorrow
I shield myself
  heart pounding
surprised by its immensity
At my feet  a smooth flat
rock that fits exactly
in my palm   This I think
the shape and heft of my grief
I launch the rock out into the reach   
it skips the surface three times
before dropping
Hours later  when I return
to the cove     a rock    mine?   
sits shining   ringed  in seaweed   
wet   like something newly
born     a rock on top
of a rock  on top of a rock
In deep woods   wreckage
of mussels  pried open  plucked    
  the needley path pocked
with scat of alabaster shells
purpled with urchin 
what couldn’t be digested
I inspect a lace of lichen
and out flutters a matching
must-colored moth    I  too
want oneness   or  is that only
camouflage?  Hermit crab
scurrying from emptiness
into emptiness?
Everywhere here   the blank
awful  open   eyes
of paper wasp nests 
abandoned like silent
scraps of poems
The island’s held together
by spiders   the invisible
sticky portals they spin
their come-what-may
hapless fly  airy
catkins  hemlock litter 
awkward caterpillar 
caught caught dangling here
On the eastern side  a storm
blew through   some years ago
uprooting trees that tilt
now  grey  knackered
twists of branches  leaning
into the green-headed ones
who hold them up
the living and the dead entangled
Now   fog  a burgeoning hush
ushers in fishing boats
the island bows out
its stage swept of detail
   part of me remembers
everything is still here 
nothing really has changed
My eyes keep returning
to the knobby dead birch
  solitary limbs wrapped in fog 
  it is its own private drama  
blunted grey shape against
a blunted grey sky 
I’m told the island is part
of an archipelago 
as everything is part of something 
this island one of three thousand
on the polka-dot coast
of jagged crags
How does one learn
to navigate the reach
  its treacherous rocks?
Some here  call them stones 
these things that could kill you
Others make them known  
naming each one—See that? 
Whale Rock    This one  Snakehead  
To these I add
Leviathan  and  Thief
One giant rock  
  leavings of a wave or glacier  perches
triangular on a shelf   looks seaward  
Touchstone Rock—it brings good luck
  Just touch it!  So massive
I could live inside   gaze toward
Portugal    it’s made of mirrors—
fractured quartz—   I drape 
my body against the sun-saddled 
Rock   absorb its warm fortune
Dusk   high tide
we climb into the boat
circle the island——spy 
one stepped-rock outcrop  
strung with white birds on stilts
  beside them a larder of harbor seals
shatters suddenly into frenzied water  
they disappear  like a probed emotion  
then surface   curious   observing
with solemn  fatherly eyes
Every island must have its snake
its bit of trouble  even here
in this experiment of beauty—
and when you think there could be
nothing wanting   someone tries
to plant a garden   bearded iris  
chives  wild sweet pea twining
beside imported cream roses
My father loved my mother’s
flowers   asked their names
forgetting each  even
as she spoke them  Sweet
William   Zinnia  Dusty Miller
I recite them to remember
This reach runs deep
a slimline channel
between two bays 
   cut by a glacier 
that scraped out inlets  
and peninsulas   necks   harbors  
a twine of tributaries
and falls that reverse! 
rills and runnels that fill 
filling   empty and  fill again
Such abundance of coast
pillowed in granite   all
crumpled in against itself
   if one could tug each
end of the state and straighten
out that snaking rope
of intricate seaboard  where
land rises and kneels
like memory meeting its grave   
and where sea finds
meaning in its own absence
     how very long that shore
would be—a kind of ever
one can only attempt
to reconstruct   to dream
back  once more  into being

NEPC is a poets’ association founded in 1915 by Amy Lowell, Robert Frost, and Conrad Aiken to foster the art of poetic expression. We run the oldest poetry reading series in the country. We offer an ongoing writing workshop open to all members. We sponsor awards and contests to encourage and recognize poetic achievement. And we look for new creative ways to foster understanding and love of poetry. Members of New England Poetry Club are poets, publishers, and readers and translators of poetry, who live in New England or have strong ties to the region. We invite you to join us!

Massachusetts Poet in the Spotlight is a monthly installment from Mass Poetry. Each month we shine the spotlight on a poet affiliated with, and nominated by, one of our poetry partners.

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