Fall 2004, Volume 22.1
Cathryn Essinger teaches creative writing at Edison Community College in Piqua, Ohio. She is a graduate of Bowling Green State University (Ohio) and of Wright State University. Her first book A Desk In The Elephant House won the Walt McDonald First Book Award from Texas Tech. Her second book My Dog Does Not Read Plato was a finalist in the Main Street Rag competition and will be published later this year. Her new work has appeared in Poetry, Mid-American Review, Quarterly West, The Southern Review, Poetry Daily, and in Poetry magazine's 90th year anthology. She lives in Troy, Ohio with her husband, two sons, and her dog. See other poetry by Cathryn Essinger published in Weber Studies: Vol. 23.3.
How Wildness Finds Us
Last night I dreamed there was a bear
in my own backyard, not a large bear—
a smallish, snuffle-under-the-bird-feeder
kind of bear. He was eating the green
things that sprout there every spring,
which I thought was good bear bait,
and even though I have never seen
a wild bear, I knew the smell of him,
the depth of his fur, the weight of his feet
on soft ground. In this dream the dog
did not make her usual manic,
rug-ruffling dash to the patio glass.
She sat watching, nodding, panting
slightly, a bit of moisture forming
at the tip of her tongue, not at all the way
she behaves when the neighbor's cattle
escape, their dark faces appearing outside
my bedroom windows to graze on peonies.
But I remember the night when wildness
found me. I was leaving Myrna's house,
the landscape dreamlike—February,
patchy snow, a few flakes in the air—
and as the headlights panned the width
of the graveled lot, I saw him standing
inside that white curtain of light, legs
like tall sticks planted side by side,
eyes fixed and golden, and I thought,
The neighbors own one helluva dog.
It wasn't until I was halfway down the lane,
after logic had spread its net over cause
and effect, and darkness had closed behind me,
that I thought more clearly, Oh…coyote.
After my husband has gone
to sleep, I go to the kitchen to make
a sandwich—white bread, Colby cheese,
which I cut from corner to corner
into two isosceles triangles. I eat
until each is equilateral,
then decide if I am going to nibble
both of the halves, now quarters,
or if I am going to save a slice
for the animal who lives in the walls,
the one that wakes me up at night,|
chewing at the drywall, looking
for a way out. So I divide the sandwich
again, using the big butcher knife
Kenny gave us as a wedding present,
cutting each triangle into two right angled
pieces that lie back to back, a married couple
who still sleep together but no longer talk.
Then I raise the false ceiling, tucking
the new half, which is now really a quarter,
perhaps an eighth, depending on how you count,
between the dark panels and the light fixture.
In the morning, I think about the creature,
bumbling around in the dark, working
the internal maze of the house, looking for
a place between the rafters and the joists
where it can settle down for the day.
And when Nicholas says we should kill it,
or at least put out some poison before it chews
through the wiring, I go to the kitchen
to cut an apple, using that nifty cutter
he gave me for Christmas, the one that cores
as it divides into eight equal portions.
The Happiness of Boys
Had you seen them, laughing in the dark,
big boys, almost too old
for such a prank,
arms cocked backwards, heads tilted
to match the angle of the throw,
had you seen the toilet paper, arcing
through the branches of the tree,
snagging on a few
April twigs, not leafy enough
to blunt the passage of the roll,
and the boy on the other side,
catching the paper, ripping it,
and tossing it
back again, you, too, might have
thought them beautiful.
How else can you define the flight of a thrown
object, how mark the passage
of time, unless trees are meant
to snag flying objects
and the perfect happiness of boys?
At the apex of the throw, after the paper
unspools itself, when the roll neither rises
nor falls, but hovers for a moment,
motionless in the moonlight,
that this story is about loss, the way everything
is about loss—the glance
that was never received,
the gesture that tumbles unnoticed
among spring leaves.
I should tell you that when they were done
they threw their arms across
each other's shoulders;
perhaps I should tell you
they are still friends today,
but in truth, they paused for just a moment,
and then they walked away.