Cathryn Essinger is the author of three prize winning books of poetry:  A Desk in the Elephant House, My Dog Does Not Read Plato, and What I Know About Innocence.  Her work has appeared in a wide variety of journals, from Midwest Gothic to The Southern Review, The Antioch Review and Poetry.  She is a retired Professor of English and a member of The Greenville Poets, a small but well published poetry group in Ohio that has been together for over 25 years.



Cathryn Essinger

It’s not hard to butter your bread on both sides,

it’s just hard to eat it that way,


so who thinks up these things anyway?  Butter-

fingers, for instance,


who is foolish enough to butter his own fingers?

And butter-me-up,


who thought of that one?  I don’t want to spread

butter on anyone


and then talk about in public, and butterflies

and buttercups


and buttermilk, and butter cookies—things

with no butter in them.


When I was at boarding school, we didn’t get

margarine for a month


after we balanced pats on the tips of our knives

and launched them


toward the ceiling, where they stuck like mushy

little moons. 


They made us wash down the walls, so I carved

our initials


in the molding, because who knows when anyone

will be up there again.


And years from now it won’t seem silly—

it will be sentimental.                                                  


When I’m 80 and in my cups and I see a pat

of butter at Bob Evans,


I’ll remember washing the walls of the dining hall

and Jenny Lindsey


looking up at me, a little smile sliding into place

and her face all creamy


in the evening light, and I know right then

she’ll be butter in my hands.

The Dentist

Cathryn Essinger

My dentist is writing a vampire novel

that she is happy to tell me about

while she repairs a filling, 


which she refers to as a “restoration.”

I’ve read a couple already, she says,

it’s going to be easy!


You need an outsider, a love interest,

a conflict between good and evil,

and of course, a threat…


She grins as she tugs at her gloves

and tips the light so it shines

right in my eyes. 


“So, this is Young Adult?” I ask,

talking between her vinyl fingers.

No—no!  I think it’s for women


my age… a professional, someone who

sees a lot of people every day, maybe

in an intimate sort of way?


She tilts her head to make eye contact. 

And maybe she has an ethical dilemma,

or something that can’t be revealed—    


professional etiquette, you understand.

“So…the vampire is a patient?” I ask,

            Maybe, she says…well, yes, yes, he is.                            


But who is the love interest I wonder

to myself—the pretty hygienist, or

the blonde with the ivory neck?


I was thinking a relationship between

two patients with a dentist as their

confidant. Clever, huh?


She bites her lip as she polishes my teeth,

then hands me a mirror. Now smile, she says,

and tell me, honestly, what do you think?



Cathryn Essinger

The only coffee I ever had was my mother's

until I went to work at the mattress factory,

where John sat me down in the break room

with a brew so strong it was thick in the cup,

and made my teeth feel rough and dingy.


That’s when I discovered cream and sugar,

because I liked John, even if his coffee

did make my stomach churn.  I could

feel the caffeine scrubbing at my fatigue,

and when I went back to my sewing


I could feel my whole body humming

along with the machines and the afternoon

seemed to feed itself smoothly into

the pleaters, while the bobbins spun

above me like they were self propelled.


And every night, John would meet me

at the door, walk me to the car, and

he always said, You gotta get out,

Girl…you gotta  get out.

Eventually, I moved up to quilting,

then I went to a dress shop

and into fancy stitching.  Later, I took

Elizabeth and moved away, went to

a pattern maker where I laid pieces out

for some of the best designers in town.

They said I had a knack for it, but nothing

ever seemed to lay out so neatly for me.

Never knew how to tell someone

he mattered in my life, never learned

to say no when I wanted yes.


Sometimes life turns you inside out,

and all of the seams and knots show

as if they were the reason for the sewing.

But I know how to put on my best face,

smile, and keep the secrets of the trade.


But late in the day, when the machines lurch

and even the best thread tangles in the cloth,

I’d give anything to be back in that break

room with a cup of John’s coffee, because

nowadays nobody makes it strong enough.