portion of the artwork for AE Reiff's poetry

Doll Shop
AE Reiff

I Am But Two Days Old is my specialty,
but there are three Hong Kong babies
with the same eyes and no hair.
One is pink, another’s voice box drips oil.
Another’s skull looks like it had an operation.
I’m not going to probe the skull.

They were in the ditch covered with mud when they got left.
I’ve assorted trousseaus to dress them with,
grandma hats, rubber stuffing, lots of sash.
This is a reclamation factory for the tired and poor.
They bring them to my door.

The widowed, alien and orphan come ticking.
Bathed twice, they look too young to have lost so much.
The hair is frizzy, the arms stubs.
Maybe she’s trying to clear her voice.
They were on their way to the bottom for fish,
or worse to float on their backs like cans.
I check again.
The pink stretched bean bags smell like the rest.

The worst part is over so I take a shower,
spin round, raise my arms like dolls clean with soap,
but I wasn’t in the ditch that long.
The dried skin is oil smooth.
Girls come up and feel me.
“Hey, I’m no doll,” I say, but it doesn’t stop them calling.
“HI LASTY!” I turn to my escort and say,
“that’s just Susie.” He says, “oh sure.”

I’ve got dolls of all sizes.
Two loads divide between animals and dolls.
I did the animals first: clorox, detergent, borax, bleach,
hot water. The water runs brown.
Oil is on my hands.
Irrigation mud is not clean.
I don’t know if I’ll run out of soap.
The people hadn’t bathed.
That vehicle was packed like a boxcar truck.
It was hard to breathe.
Here’s the bill of lading:

One red cat with a bell from Gap in its belly.
A baby tiger, oil in its fur.
A Macaw Yellow Beak,
A red breast with green winged feet.

There were little guys, a yellow dolphin and green frog,
an emu, as near as I could decide,
an orange fish and white lamb with tags.
Bears in moo-moos with white ribs,
angels with sacks of gold on their heads
and I Love You on their chest plates.
A teething bear shaped like a ring, but oily.
An Oink from China.
Plush, a Hug Me I’m Yours white bear heart.
A sea thing. A purple teletubby from Eden.
Dinosaur dudes with shades.
A she-dude and a she-bop.

I got the pick.
Time for another box.
One has a ponytail and oiled blouse.
The wash, the dirt, the oil cleaned aren’t enough,
they have to be praised.
I line the bodies up.
All can be saved.
“Aren’t you pretty,” I say,
“yum, yum, girls,” but don’t look in the eyes.
Frizzy beauts in caliche mud shrink
when the hair and a dress comes off,
transfigure the world.

They go their way, but we get them back.
Up canal they land in pickups in an awful heat.
Whole garages speak a different language after that.
The box is full. I can say that much.
The basket is full.

One starts to call “Velma” or “Mama.”
I go out to check.
Heads bump. They’re hot,
the water is hot, the heads are bald.
I don’t see any boys.

Eyes peep over suds. Water clears.
Bald heads come out.
You get closer, pop the lid.
Heads go by, one in her fourth mind.
One lost a dress. Another gained water weight.
Stuffing’s out. Some holes open up.
She drips, but the clothes are clean.
The machine goes fast.
They take off their clothes.
It feels good to bathe.
I wish we could have them at our club,
eyes closed, heads thrown back to drain.
It’s what we dream of, the way dolls are made.

Back and forth to the washer I go.
The phone rings.
I hear from one who has a voice set yet and instant messaging.
He recites Jefferson and Adams while my dolls clear.
I turn the machine to Delicate for the oil and hot water,
but have to clean the floor.
If the borax holds I’ll re-dial.
Now they are full of water the heads don’t bang;
they bob.
Other things I could have washed,
the hair needs doing.
A dinosaur with a plastic cap got in.
They need helmets.
It’s a hundred and ten.

I look at grownups and see dolls wrapped.
Don’t tell me stars are caked in movie blood
and if you wonder how to think like this,
all human acts are dolls when children take them home.
I have a vast supply of children.
The dolls will one day vote.

With intention I cover ears.
Are you waiting for the count?
Mama’s girl I knew from the sound box in her back.
She had gold haloes in her eyes and pink PJs.
They with brown hair and green eyes,
black hair and brown eyes, red lips I adore.
Even with the hair a mess I can get mechanics to fix the voice.
She’ll say “Mama” just like when she went under.
A beach girl with shades, visor and cap says, “Recall Los Angeles.”

Bring me also your tired and your ailing dudes.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 57 | Spring/Summer 2021