Am I a child now,
I look at dolls on shelves.
I wish for China clowns
in satin hats,
I stare at mobiles
and touch at bells
and wind-chimes when I pass.
Your hands are too small
to hold all that you desire.
The live butterfly
caught in your hair
will not love you for long.
The tethered swallow
you keep on a string
back to the wall paper.
The beautifully feathered bird
you hold on a stick
will lose its will to fly away.
You are too innocent
for such power—
to keep all that life as yours,
to possess and try to tame—
standing there in all your defiance,
as if you dare not believe me.
I hated this one immediately : bisque with
painted-on marcelled hair and fixed brown eyes.
It looked at me, its blond face featureless.
But I said thank you and sat it on a chair where it
slipped sideways and went rigid with not belonging.
I don’t remember ever touching it again.
THE PORCELAIN DOLL
The other doll—
the rich one—looks like a real child,
has a velvet dress and carefully coiffed hair,
even walks on her stiff, plump legs.
She is told to be good; so she is.
Her face is a secret face.
She belongs to an old woman
who loves dolls—especially this one.
They are the same age.
Her dress is often brushed
and is never dirty.
She has no bad manners.
She stands where she is put,
holding a doll of her own, which holds
a doll of its own, which holds a smaller doll,
which holds an even smaller doll—
all part of the genealogy
of cloistered love.
THE LITTLE TOY FIGHTING MEN
The little toy
die on the bedroom floor,
knocked over by
of the boy
of their war;
and they lie
in the frozen positions,
their molded green faces
holding the battle-yell—
awkward and bloodless
in the mind of the boy
of this war
can make them
come alive again
if he wants to.
(first pub. in The Lace Review, 1969)
THE TOY SHELF
In the cavern of toys live the blue horse,
a pig, a pink giraffe and a tiny elephant,
holding its pose on a small round tower.
They live in the dark shelves of storage
under the low arch of darkness and
the gloom of surrender, all singular to
each other. Childhood no longer lives
here; these are the remnants, along with
the favorite shadows and certain river
stones that line the floor. How patient
they are in their darkness—in the long
remembering—the thin sleep of shared
environment. Who mentioned this before—
with simulated reverence—as if letting out
a secret that will make everything vanish.
LULLABY TO AN OLD BEAR
Rock in my arms, old toy, all ragged and
worn, all trite with loving. How many tears
can drown you?—how many absences
can you endure?—old reincarnated thing,
ghost of my wanting, toy I never had.
Only the doll—rigid and nameless—
not like you, old Teddy, fuzzy and plush,
and so obedient, waiting like a dog
for me to find you in some perfect store,
your price tag hidden, your sad expression
fastened to my passing glance. Let me
prop you by my pillow now where we can
comfort each other and listen to the rain
and reminisce on all our years together.
(after "Old Woman and Doll",
a photograph by Kate Barton, 1974)
This is my child.
I am its mother.
She needs to be held
and I need to have the holding.
Now go away and let us rock and sleep
in this old rocking chair together.
(first pub. in Mini-Chap: Vignettes, 2002
Choice Of Words Press, Brevities Series)
My dear love,
breaking each other
and fixing each other
as if we were
We don’t ever learn
and still we go on
isn’t that remarkable?
(First pub. in Mini-Chap: The Third Leaf Has Fallen, 1968)