After Flushing His First Muskrat

Cathryn Essinger

Since he is a modern dog who expects kibble
in his bowl and a bed from LL Bean, I open
Wikipedia and read to him about muskrats—

“semi aquatic rodents familiar to most inland lakes
and streams,” and he moves closer, panting
thoughtfully, so I continue. According to legend,

it was the muskrat who made the Earth, although
all of the other animals tried. It was only he who
could dive to the bottom of the primordial sea

and bring back enough mud (on his nose) to smear
on the turtle’s back where the earth then took shape.
And the dog thinks this is possible—he has seen

muskrats dive, and it is impressive, and he has seen
their dens stacked beside the stream like small cottages.
It’s the next part that worries him: “When the woman

fell from the sky, in her skirts were the seeds to grow
the trees, the corn, the grasses….” He has never seen
anyone fall from the sky, although he has watched

the woman stumble about at the edge of the stream,
crouching in the grass to return a turtle to the water,
and even bend over the fox, dead in the meadow,

to see if it could be brought back to life.
Mostly, he remembers the smell of wet musk in
his nostrils, the adrenaline rush as the animal

dove between his legs and slid into the current.
And then it was gone, leaving only the world that
he loves behind—the mud beneath his feet,

water pushing forward, the dizzying mix of sun
and shadow. Of course the story was true–
why would anyone doubt it? Just look around.

Antioch Writers’ Workshop 2nd Place Adult

about the author
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 that has been together for more than 25 years.