[dolls]

Your mother dresses you and your sister to match. She calls your sister a little doll. Her straight chestnut hair, your straw hair. You are a patchwork: uneven, sparse.

You want the porcelain doll in lace ruffles. The one that closes her eyes when you tilt her backward. Her mouth is always slightly open, like yours. You are often mistaken for being on the verge of speaking.

You lay the doll down too many times. The mechanism that reopens her eyes fails. There is too much weight inside her head. Even upright, she is half-lidded, about to fall asleep or on the verge of waking up.

The porcelain dolls line the white display shelves against your bedroom’s blue walls. You chose the color because it was called cornflower. You feel like a cornflower. Something small, unthreatening. Ordinary.

The shelves begin to bow. You remove the dolls, pack them into the closet.

Your freckled skin is sunburnt, all freckle. Your teeth are crooked, overcrowded. Your teeth will never be straight enough. Your teeth spite all the metal fastened into your mouth. Your teeth force their way out of retainers.

Jagged teeth can bite into anything. You turn to polyester and stretch.

Your mother disapproves. She sacrificed herself after her mother died. Ceased any delight in eating. She vacuums every corner of the basement for dust and crumbs. Prepares the house for visitors who never arrive.

Your mother predicts how you will eventually break.

You shed yourself, sick on hating food. You buy stacks of new cookbooks to mark recipes that you will not make for years.

Even in loose clothing, you feel like you are swallowing up the space around you.

A doll is perfect from the mold. You must practice restraint, eat doll-like portions, like you belong in a Polly Pocket tea set. Like you, too, are plastic and paint.


Alyse Bensel is the author of Rare Wondrous Things, a poetic biography of Maria Sibylla Merian (Green Writers Press, forthcoming 2020), and three chapbooks, including Lies to Tell the Body (Seven Kitchens Press, 2018). Her poems have appeared in Alaska Quarterly Review, Gulf Coast, Poetry International, and West Branch. She is an assistant professor of English at Brevard College, where she directs the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference.