Monday, March 03, 2014

Simplicity or excess

Since my mother was 29, when she had me (her oldest child) and had always loved and wanted babies, perhaps she overdid the doll thing, but hey, here I am with the proof that I had a well-stocked doll nursery. Do you spot Charlie McCarthy, top-hatted in the back??

John Ciardi was a Reigning Grey Eminence when I was a young woman and my Aunt Louise sent me her old Saturday Review magazines which he edited. He influenced many younger poets at that time. His collected poems is still ranking up good scores on Goodreads, which sort of surprised me, since it has been 20 years since I looked at one of his books. But I needed a poem about dolls and found this one, which I love because it goes beyond dolls to all the little effigies that have been unearthed from Prehistoric Times, and which have fascinated me for years. And, below Ciardi's poem, I have posted one of mine on that topic that was published in the Laurel Review years ago.

The Dolls
By John Ciardi

Night after night forever the dolls lay stiff
by the children’s dreams. On the goose-feathers of the rich,
on the straw of the poor, on the gypsy ground—
wherever the children slept, dolls have been found
in the subsoil of the small loves stirred again
by the Finders After Everything. Down lay
the children by their hanks and twists. Night after night
grew over imagination. The fuzzies shed, the bright
buttons fell out of the heads, arms ripped, and down
through goose-feathers, straw; and the gypsy ground
the dolls sank, and some—the fuzziest and most loved
changed back to string and dust, and the dust moved
dream-puffs round the Finders’ boots as they dug,
sieved, brushed, and came on a little clay dog,
and a little stone man, and a little bone girl, that had kept
their eyes wide open forever, while all the children slept.

John Ciardi, “The Dolls” from In the Stoneworks 
(New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1961)

Not Like The Red Paint Peoples' Burials 
by June Hopper Hymas

Cause of death unknown, and, like my father,
too natural to autopsy, a Brewer's blackbird
drops from phone wires above us.
She leaves no books, no photo albums, no polyester raiment.
No mourners now assemble; although, soon,
ants will string a line across the pavement.
How could we honor from this sidewalk
her flexed claw lifting upward
if she had fallen ten feet from us in the weeds—
or witness the regard of her still unclouded eye?
Not like the Red Paint Peoples' burials:
his face down, head to the west, auk beaks in whorls
over his body's red ochre covering. Not armed
with a bone dagger, patterned with aligned dots.
Nor ornamented like her young body
with a necklace of teeth, nor supplied
with a waterbird engraved on an ivory comb.
But dressed only in brown feathers,
cooling on cement, still so warm
the tiny lice in the neck feathers suspect no change.

June Hopper Hymas, The Laurel Review, Vol. 27, No. 1, Winter, 1993, page 72.

Now that I look at it, I think I might perhaps have broken it into more bite-sized chunks. And said "father's" in the first line. It may have been an article in National Geographic that introduced me to the red-paint people; I'll have to look it up. The bird did fall from the sky almost onto me and my friend Diane. I've wondered why it died.

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