The Man Next Door Is Teaching His Dog to Drive


Last summer I read from my memoir one evening at the Antioch Writer’s Workshop (AWW). It was a special night because AWW has felt like a home to me: I started attending in 2009, and I grew every summer as a writer because of it. Over the years, the workshop taught me many things—how to use the reflective voice, the ways that the particular can make a story universal, and the wonders of a prose poem. 

When I found out a few weeks ago that the workshop was closing its doors for good, I thought a lot about how the workshop had handed me opportunities and offered a place where learning didn’t have to be grueling. But perhaps the most important thing the workshop gave me was a community of writers, people who made me feel like I belonged, people who understood my love of words, people who got excited, just as I do, about language and story. 

I didn’t know when I gave a reading last summer at AWW that it would be the last time I ever could. I think back on that night now with more nostalgia. But true to AWW’s spirit of bringing writers together, I met Cathryn Essinger that evening because she read, too. I’d heard of Cathryn because she is a well-known poet who is also from the Dayton area, but I had never read her work. 

This poem is one she read that night, and I liked it so much that I contacted Cathryn a few months ago to ask her if I could feature it. I’m thrilled she said yes.

Here it is, for you all to enjoy as much as I did:

The Man Next Door
Is Teaching His Dog to Drive

It all began when he came out one morning
and found the dog waiting for him behind the wheel.
He thought she looked pretty good sitting there,

so he started taking her into town with him
just so she could get a feel for the road.
They have made a few turns through the field,

him sitting beside her, his foot on the accelerator,
her muzzle on the wheel. Now they are practicing
going up and down the lane with him whispering

encouragement in her silky ear. She is a handsome
dog with long ears and a speckled muzzle and he
is a good teacher. Now my wife, Millie, he says,

she was always too timid on the road, but don’t you
be afraid to let people know that you are there.
The dog seems to be thinking about this seriously.

Braking, however, is still a problem, but he is building
a mouthpiece which he hopes to attach to the steering 
column, and when he upgrades to one of those new

Sports Utility Vehicles with the remote ignition device,
he will have solved the key and lock problem.
Although he has not yet let her drive into town,

he thinks she will be ready sometime next month,
and when his eyes get bad and her hip dysplasia
gets worse, he thinks this will come in real handy.

Thank you for writing this poem, Cathryn, and for being a part of my National Poetry Month celebration.

I’m dedicating this blog to AWW and to all the friends I made through our summer weeks together over the years. I will miss them terribly.

Not signed up for my blog? You can do so here.

Every week this month—National Poetry Month—I am offering up a poem in hopes that those who already love poetry will discover a new poet, and in hopes that those who don’t normally read poetry find poems that are accessible and that speak to them, too. My friend, Robert McCready, is reciting each poem, so have a listen here to Cathryn Essinger’s work.

The above poem was published in My Dog Does Not Read Plato (Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2004). To learn more about Cathryn, click here.

Photo of road by Patrick Tomasso from