My Dog Practices Geometry

By Cathryn Essinger Cathryn Essinger
I do not understand the poets who tell me
that I should not personify. Every morning
the willow auditions for a new role

outside my bedroom window—today she is
Clytemnestra; yesterday a Southern Belle,
lost in her own melodrama, sinking on her skirts.

Nor do I like the mathematicians who tell me
I cannot say, "The zinnias are counting on their
fingers," or "The dog is practicing her geometry,"

even though every day I watch her using
the yard's big maple as the apex of a triangle
from which she bisects the circumference

of the lawn until she finds the place where
the rabbit has escaped, or the squirrel upped
the ante by climbing into a new Euclidian plane.

She stumbles across the lawn, eyes pulling
her feet along, gaze fixed on a rodent working
the maze of the oak as if it were his own invention,

her feet tangling in the roots of trees, and tripping,
yes, even over themselves, until I go out to assist,
by pointing at the squirrel, and repeating, "There!

There!" But instead of following my outstretched
arm to the crown of the tree, where the animal is
now lounging under a canopy of leaves,

catching its breath, charting its next escape,
she looks to my mouth, eager to read my lips,
confident that I—who can bring her home

from across the field with a word, who
can speak for the willow and the zinnia—
can surely charm a squirrel down from a tree.

Source: Poetry (January 2002).


This poem originally appeared in the January 2002 issue of Poetry magazine

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January 2002


Cathryn Essinger has published three books of poetry, including My Dog Does Not Read Plato (2004) and What I Know about Innocence (2009). Her first work, A Desk in the Elephant House (1998), won the Walt McDonald First Book Award from Texas Tech University Press.
Her poems have been featured in the Southern Review, New England Review, and Quarterly West. Essinger’s work has also been anthologized in The Poetry Anthology: . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Pets, Poetry & Poets, Nature, Relationships, Arts & Sciences, Animals

POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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