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Spring/Summer 2007, Volume 23.3

Poetry

Cathryn EssingerPhoto of Cathryn Essinger.


Cathryn Essinger’s books include A Desk In The Elephant House (which won the Walt McDonald First Book Award from Texas Tech University Press) and My Dog Does Not Read Plato. Her poems have been anthologized in The Poetry Anthology: 1912-2002, Poetry Daily: 366 Poems, and in O Taste and See: Food Poems. Her recent work has appeared in The Southern Review, New England Review, and Quarterly West. She received an Ohio Arts Council grant and was Ohio’s Poet of the Year in 2005. She is a professor of English at Edison Community College, in Piqua, Ohio.  See other poetry by Cathryn Essinger published in Weber Studies: Vol. 22.1.

 

For Erika

…after finding an Indigo
Bunting in her freezer


She is bent over the kitchen sink,
scrubbing a mango pit with a toothbrush
dipped in bleach when I decide that
Erika really is a witch. It’s not her white
hair pulled into a bun, her Austrian accent,
or even the object in hand, but her enthusiasm
that gives her away.
                                She knows the secret
in the mango pit, the story behind the gopher
skull soaking in Clorox beside the bathroom sink.
Red string and superstitions, acorns in paper cups,
tomatoes that bloom in January, poinsettias in July—
the evidence is everywhere.
                                For years, I have heeded
her premonitions, carrying raisins in my pockets
in case my plane goes down in the mountains,
a knife for peeling cactus if we crash in the desert.
I tie my keys to my coat, label my drawers,
wind plastic around my boots, wear a man’s hat
after dark. In every purse
                                I have the necessities
for survival: aspirin and candy, scissors,
a magnifying glass for starting signal fires,
and a compass that occasionally points due north.
But tonight, as I wrap a scarf around my neck
before heading out the door,
                                she cautions,
           Jemand koennte dich damit erwürgen!
and I am able to translate without knowing
what she has said. The message is clear: Don’t tell
strangers that you’re traveling alone, and don’t
wear that scarf if you’re going into the city—
           Someone could strangle you with that!

 

I-90

Eight hundred miles from home, I am riding I-90 with my son,
his hair pulled back in a blue bandana, Bob Dylan
on the CD player and his grandmother’s 91 Olds,
a car that has known only church meetings,
and weekly trips to the Piggly Wiggly,
is now doing 75 on cruise control, by-passing Albany,
Buffalo, Cleveland and you can feel the joy in the tires,
the burst of freedom as Dylan launches into Highway 61,
and I remember how good it is to be on the road,
to be unsure of your destination,
                                                 and I am in love
with the man in the Jaguar who nods as we pass
and the grandfather moving his RV into the slow lane
as the mountain drags at his clutch, and the aging biker,
the fringe on his leathers still airborne as he pulls
into the toll booth, ticket clenched between his teeth.
The attendant takes our change and waves us on,
as if we were in some grand relay.
                                                 Never mind
that there are days ahead in which every minute
has been charted, that the evening news is full of dread.
We are on I-90, and the America I knew as a child
is here again—full of mystery and love—and my son,
that infant who tied me to a place, who even now
is arguing cultural methodology vs. spontaneity,
is at the wheel, letting an aging automobile escort him
into his future.
                        Perhaps I should tell him what I know
about irony, how everything worth putting your heart
into comes back again and again, but I decide
to roll down the window, turn up the volume,
and let him make that journey on his own.

 

Eulogy for a Big Blue Ball

for the children who mourn its loss,
unaware of where it lies,
just beyond their reach.

The big blue ball that blew
away from the neighbor’s yard
has settled beside the creek. Trapped
by the tangle of a sycamore tree,

it rises and falls through winter rains,
shrinks as ice puckers its vinyl hide,
rides out the spring flood, its blue
countenance unfazed by the elements.

Soon it will turn opalesque,
milky as the first spring day,
so much a part of our daily walk
that we no longer find it odd,

the ball becoming what anything
can become when left alone
long enough, earning its place
in a landscape of familiar things.

And when we find it gone tomorrow,
will we think only of our loss,
the blue order that we lost and found
and will lose again and again?

 

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