Mary Buchinger


I’ve felt it before—once, when a train
roared toward our rented villa, halfway up
a mountain in the Andes where
there were no tracks and we
bolted into the dusk outside
while the ground heaved, and fixed
our eyes on the hanging plants
swinging back and forth
from the columns of our deck;
the dogs in every compound singing
with bright terror. And one night
in Quito, Ecuador, we were roused
by the jingling of the hotel windows
—not breaking, but awake and rippling
in their casings. All we could do was run
out into the street, stand and wait,
with all the couples, families, tourists,
anxious together in the dark.

That was twenty years ago, and mere
minutes in dwellings we didn’t own;
now, another kind of shifting, just as
unsettling—soundless and long,
as the tired foundation of our
loose-limbed house slouches
into a softening earth. This place we’ve
brought our children home to, this old
New England Victorian with its new floors
and paint, is losing its footings; its doors
no longer square their frames. The walls
have begun to hunch around the windows
and to spring thin rivers of cracks running
parallels and diagonals across our fresh greens
and yellows, revealing the old wattle and daub,
horsehair and glue, brittle, crumbling, beneath,
and no waiting it out in the street as we watch.


I didn’t know to wish for a solid
house foundation until it started
to sink; didn’t know how tender
peat could be, how vulnerable
vegetal mass, how subject
to drought a patch of earth
how brittle walls, how ingrained
my notions of plate tectonics
until I recognized the continent
of Africa pulling away from
Pangaea, right there on the
red dining room wall, and
just below, the sheetrock seam
rising slowly into Tetons, so
slowly I cannot mark it
in a day.


Money buys you a lot of attention
especially money spent on a thing
gone wrong, like a foundation, say,
of an old house, where there is little
room to maneuver so each field stone
and ragged chunk of concrete floor
must be removed by hand, by
many hands over many months.

Today, the chief bricklayer introduces  
himself and his attending assistants.
You’ve already met the contractor
and his interns, clasped hands,
read your future in their eyes.
They’ve warned you yours
is a special case, a challenge
they will do their best to rise to.

They promise to be gentle
—to support what is there
as they rebuild and replace, yet
from day to day, some doors
upstairs won’t budge, new cracks
appear in walls. You feel the peril
of stints, clamps, temporary measures.

No guarantees of long-term health
as the team unearths old arteries of
clay sewer pipes—among the oldest
in the country, they exclaim. There is
no telling what the ground will do, what
piece of earth you’ve bought yourself.

Mary Buchinger’s poems have appeared in AGNI Online, RUNES, The Massachusetts Review, Versal (Netherlands), and other journals; she was the recipient of New England Poetry Club’s Daniel Varoujan Award, judged by Marge Piercy. Her collection, Roomful of Sparrows, (Finishing Line Press, 2008) was a semi-finalist in the New Women’s Voices Series. She holds a Ph.D. in applied linguistics and teaches writing at the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in Boston.



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