Mary Buchinger


In the thumb of Michigan   stories
of Indian camps in pockets
of thinned woods   long after
a treaty took away millions
of acres and moved the nations
Chippewa  Ottawa  Potawatomi
to some river-bound tract
out West    far beyond
their jeweled Great Lakes


Indian Dave—Ish-don-quit
Crossing Cloud—son of a chief
lived old-style in Tuscola County
baking clay-covered fish
and snare-trapping game
he stayed   even after
his first family was taken
by Black Smallpox

Stayed trading  baskets
hickory whip stalks
and gun-wipers   a gunnysack
of ginseng on his back   pretended
tomahawk chase in town parades


His son John  signed as if mute
with the white people   spoke
Algonquian with his father who
walked in front    John ever
behind—the narrow primeval
trail drumming within


The way my mother tells it
one day her grandma
Margaretha was left at home
kitchen full of fresh
homemade bread
the morning’s labor

Protect it from the Indians
her mother said
We need the money
from the trainmen
The daughter was twelve
like I was twelve
when I first remember
hearing this story

No one now knows
if the Indians threatened her
or how many there were
They appeared at the door
lured by the fragrant bread


When my great-great
grandmother Anna came
home  to find the bread
gone   she chased
her daughter with a knife
they said   long butcher
knife   for miles and miles
till she gave up
finally and Margaretha
sheltered ever after
at her uncle’s house
beside the tavern
Never again did
she go home


Her mother  divorced
her father  one of the first
in the county!  She sold
the farm—it was hers to sell—
married the town doctor
and I believe he loved
fierce Anna’s bread
and paid and paid
for each loaf after


On the homestead  my grandpa and his sister
ages three and five brought the cows
back home   through the twisty woods
and fields of stumps  rough-cut  burnt
some half-dragged out   roots spread
like open hands  limbs and brush
grabbing at bare ankles  bare feet

the children wore bells too   brother and sister
hand-in-hand like a fairy tale
We can’t rest now  she told him
pulling him to his feet  cows
trusting them to find their way
to the barn and buckets before dark
dark  all the bells ringing  cow bells

jangling   Ma standing at the chinked-log
cabin  listening for the bells  calling them in
more than ninety years ago   My grandpa
tells the story from his easy chair
his white-haired head sinking toward his chest
lit cigar trembling between elegant  gnarled  fingers
remembers how his legs ached  how tired

he was   wonders how they didn’t get lost
his sister now with a long hooked nose
matching his own  age-speckled pink skin
she still bends low   a hundred years old!
weeding dandelions from her yard  Can’t bear
to see something grow where it don’t belong


On the first warm days at the farm
my father pulled a spring-toothed
harrow with the John Deere in the flat
brown field  leveling the tilth

readying  readying and I rode
beside him balanced on the green
fender above the giant tire
fat-tracked tread spinning

below me  all the colors of earth
grey  black  yellow  red
throttle opened wide  we’d piece
the field  half to quarter to eighths

round and round  slowing only
at each turn  putt  putt  putt
by the mucky clay-hipped
ditches cut by shiny culverts

Flocks of glaucous seagulls
from Saginaw Bay followed like chaos
close behind swooping down
to feast on newly-bared grubs

and fecund smell of opened loam
their  keow  mew  mew  ha-ha-ha
rising above the metal tine
clatter and galloping carburetor

I loved the air and hum  this manly
puttering along  drumming of dirt
in the sun  in the wind  Aye la hum  in the
sun  in the wind  Aye la hum la hum


Though it was my job  Dad
usually spotted her first   wing held
awkward out from her small
body  that little pod of  hollow

kill-deer! kill-deer! she cried
as she stumbled  just in front
of the wheeling tractor tires
where cold-shoveled clods

of rough-waved dirt and stubble
waited for us to come break them
into workable ground  somewhere
somewhere  there   her nest


Almost always the killdeer’s broken-
wing ruse worked  saving her neat
pebbled cradle of speckled eggs

Engine killed  my dad and I would jump
down from the tractor  hunt the grey-
brown field for her grey-brown nest—

one time less than a feather away
from the dual front tires
what crushing we were capable of

My dad would stake the killdeer nest
with a white handkerchief flag
and the spring planting would obey—

a little zig of the drill that dropped the seeds
left a comma in the summer-fat field
long after the fledglings had flown away


How straight the rows now

those who farm that same flat land
ride in glass-boxes  air-conditioned
surround-sound Bluetooth stereo

no killdeer nests on the GPS
earth-circulating satellite directs
the enormous tractor’s course

loud gulls still follow behind  still dive


Listen to the author read “Killdeer”:

Provenance:  Submission.


Mary Buchinger, author of two collections of poetry, Aerialist and Roomful of Sparrows, grew up on a small family farm in Michigan, was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador and earned a doctorate in applied linguistics from Boston University. Co-President of the New England Poetry Club and Professor of English and Communication Studies at MCPHS University in Boston, Mass., she lives in Cambridge with her husband, sons, dog and cats. Her website is



NoDak67>” by Ted Sakshaug is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

No Comments

Leave a Reply