Exquisite Poem by Amy Gerstler

TOURING THE DOLL HOSPITAL

by Amy Gerstler

Why so many senseless injuries? This one’s glass teeth
knocked out. Eyes missing, or stuck open or closed.
Limbs torn away. Sawdust dribbles onto the floor
like an hourglass running out. Fingerless hands, noses
chipped or bitten off. Many are bald or burnt. Some,
we learn, are victims of torture or amateur surgery.
Do dolls invite abuse, with their dent-able heads,
those tight little painted-on or stitched-in grins?
Hurt me, big botched being, they whine in a dialect
only puritans and the frequently punished can hear.
It’s what I was born for. I know my tiny white pantaloons
and sheer underskirts incite violation. Criers and crib-
wetters pursue us in dreams, till we wake sweat-
drenched but unrepentant, glad to have the order
by which we lord over them restored. Small soldiers
with no Geneva Conventions to protect them,
they endure gnawing, being drooled on, banishment
to attics. Stained by cough syrup, hot cocoa, and pee,
these “clean gallant souls” wear their wounds as martyrs’
garments. We owe them everything. How they suffer
for our sins, “splintered, bursted, crumbled . . .”
Every bed in the head replacement ward is occupied tonight.
Let’s sit by the legless Queen doll’s tiny wheelchair
and read to her awhile if she wishes it. In a faint
voice she requests a thimbleful of strong dark tea.

Amy Gerstler, “Touring the Doll Hospital” from Ghost Girl. Copyright © 2004 by Amy Gerstler. Reprinted with the permission of Penguin, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. For online information about other Penguin Group (USA) books and authors,

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