Home > Poetry > What Tolstoy and Paleopathologists Have in Common
Published: Fri Jul 1 2005
Eva Lundsager, Were now like (detail), 2021, oil on canvas
What Tolstoy and Paleopathologists Have in Common

In the dissection
and study of a mummy,
the richest store of history
lies not in its cracked leather skin
nor in its fringes of straw hair

but in the coprolites
—the dried clumps
of ancient shit
in its lower gut—

just as the best stories
of old economies and trade,
climates and plagues are told

by the archeology of garbage pits
and kitchen midden mounds,
with their broken pots
and desiccated coffee grounds.

Tolstoy knew this too,
how what happens
is what no one wills,

how inertia and momentum
bubble up unpredictably
from a soup of
minutiae and mass,

how each bit of dirt
pushed up by insects
from the hardened core,
each pore’s excretion,
each bit of breath or word,

is a pair of wings—
_    _what is cast off
_   _ says everything.

Mary Buchinger is the author of three poetry collections: e i n f ü h l u n g / in feeling (Main Street Rag, 2018), Aerialist (Gold Wake, 2015, shortlisted for the May Swenson Poetry Award, the OSU Press/The Journal Wheeler Prize for Poetry, and the Perugia Press Prize), and Roomful of Sparrows (Finishing Line, 2008). Her poems have appeared in DIAGRAM, Gargoyle, AGNISalamander, The Massachusetts Review, and elsewhere. She received both the Daniel Varoujan and the Firman Houghton Awards from the New England Poetry Club and was an invited poet at the Library of Congress. She is currently president of the New England Poetry Club and professor of English and Communication Studies at MCPHS University in Boston. (updated 10/2018)

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