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.

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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

We Begin National Poetry Month Together


When I was very young, my father traveled to Russia and brought back a set of nesting dolls for me and my sister. I was too young to know what this was, so each discovered doll beneath another was a surprise. Over the years, my sister and I opened and opened them, and you could tell we loved the smallest best because the paint wore off it the soonest. It felt like a little secret tucked away.

Sometimes a good poem is like that for me—each sentence is another layer that goes deeper, and when you get to the end of the poem, you feel like you’ve been let in on something secret and quiet, something that doesn’t get talked about loudly.

I found the poem “With Time” by Brian Satrom on Cider Press Review back in December, and I am so glad I did.

The poem is small but packs a big emotional punch, and it manages in just a few lines to be in the present, go back to the past, and glimpse into the future. Here it is:

With Time

I’m the one to hollow the pumpkin and carve a face.
The doorbell rings again. You adore the children
tonight in their costumes. A warm night.
We have no costumes, just the two of us
and the space between forming a shape we keep repeating.
My turn to go and hand out candy. We finally threw away
the photo from the booth that merged our faces,
a composite to show what a daughter of ours
might look like. She looked freaky not being real.
This isn’t yours alone to carry, isn’t your failure.
We won’t let us drift apart, but there’s nothing
to work on or figure out. With time you’ll say
your body doesn’t crave being a mother anymore.
You can’t say it now, your silence
a place into which I don’t know how to follow you.

—Brian Satrom

Every week this month—National Poetry Month—I’ll be offering up a poem to you 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 dear friend Robert McCready will be reciting each poem, so have a listen to this first one.

Thank you for writing “With Time,” Brian, and for allowing me to share it with others.

And thank you to all of you for kicking off National Poetry Month with me.

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

This poem was originally published in Cider Press Review on October 31, 2018 in Volume 20, Issue 3. To learn more about Brian Satrom, click here.

Photo (cropped) of clock is by Amanda Jones from Unsplash.

A Little Stronger than You Think


Last week, I was writing in a library, and I saw a woman suddenly get up from her chair by the window and stand a few feet away. I was fairly certain I knew what was wrong. I got up and went over to her. “Is there a wasp?” I asked. This library had a long row of windows, and many of them were open, sans screens.

Yes, she said, there was.

“Do you need help?” I asked. Not that I wanted to help. I don’t kill insects—I get other people to do that for me, namely my husband. If I can get the bug to crawl onto a piece of paper, I take it outside and set it free, but if it flies and stings? No can do. If I try to kill a hornet, wasp, or yellow jacket, I am so scared I scream (quite loudly, and yes, that is a genetic trait I inherited from my maternal line), and I often miss. 

But this woman was probably two decades older than I was, and no one was helping her even though there were people around. I confess, though, that wasn’t the only reason I considered stepping up: stinging insects love to find me. I have been stung multiple times in my life while not even knowing that the bug was there until I felt the sharp prick. So if anyone was going to get stung in this library, it was going to be me.

I had only my computer and a mouse, no paper. “Do you have something to hit it with?” I asked. 

She handed me a thin newspaper insert. It wasn’t going to do the trick. “This isn’t enough,” I said. She found a magazine and handed that to me, too.

Before I began my reign of terror, I had to remind myself that I was not allowed to scream. This was going to be hard because instinctually, I scream. It’s not a plan; it’s not something I want to do, but it happens, and it isn’t pretty. 

I took a deep breath, and I swatted at the wasp (and okay, I yelped a little, but I did not do an all-out scream, though I’m pretty sure I was sweating at this point). Once, twice, three, four tries, and after each thwap the wasp just zipped to some other part of the window and went on with its day. How many lives did this wasp have, and how mad was I making it by trying to kill it?

The fifth time, I was patient and stood back to assess first instead of just whacking furiously. The fifth time, I made sure the wasp was on a flat surface. The fifth time, I got the job done. (I felt badly for it, too—the wasp hadn’t been doing anything wrong, but I didn’t one hundred percent regret it, either.) 

I know it’s small and pretty insignificant—killing a wasp—but I thought about how if my husband had been there, I would have asked him to (made him) do it. I thought about all the tiny things I learned how to do after my first marriage fell apart: eat out by myself, show up solo at dances and dance weekends, set up a tent and camp on my own, change my air filters, negotiate a mortgage, and the list goes on and on and and on of the small things that still add up. But maybe, most importantly, I learned how to ask for help, something I didn’t do all that well in my first marriage.

Maybe it’s okay that I ask my husband to kill wasps for me, but it’s also okay being reminded that I can do it if I need to, that I can step up and be a little stronger than I think I am.

What is one thing you have done (big or small) that you didn’t think you could do? I want to know.

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April is National Poetry Month! Who’s as excited as I am? Every week next month, I’ll be celebrating by posting a poem weekly on my blog. This year’s poets include Cathryn Essinger, Hannah Cohen, Barbara Costas-Biggs, and Brian Satrom.

Read a great poem weekly! Look for them in your inbox.

Photo by Karim Ghantous on Unsplash.