Family and Dolls, Poetry by Joan Colby


At Marshall Fields that year
When I was eight,
They took a photograph to make
A doll with my face,
My wavy auburn hair.

I unwrapped that doll
On Christmas day. She had
A wardrobe of clothes
Just like mine. A green wool coat
Trimmed with muskrat fur,
A taffeta skirt and lace collared blouse,
A skating outfit and small white skates,
Flannel pajamas and scratchy underwear,
All sewn by my mother
Late at night on the Singer
In the corner of our kitchen
To match my own.

The doll was eerie, my
Doppelganger. A better child
Than I would ever be.
She had a pimpled leather prayer book
Fit for a believer,
Unlike me.

She sat in my bedroom
On a quilted chair
Before the vanity mirror
Where we were both reflected.
Her hair brushed to shine,
Her smile impassive,
Her complexion putty-colored
Minus my freckles, her brown eyes kind
And compliant.

My mother named her Dolores, her choice
For me vetoed by my father who said
It meant sorrow.
Dolores’ legs bent
So she could kneel
With her little rosary
In her little fingers.
My mother’s real child.



The fog descends with the ordinary displeasure of the fallen.
So I append theory to natural phenomena
Unfairly as the misted droplets
Ruining my hairdo.

The day is soggy at the start
And grim as it greys what’s left
Of the urine blotched snow.

That snow provided traction
More significant than beauty
To the old woman shuffling
To retrieve the morning paper
Thrown at the bottom of the drive
By Jose and Luisa who she knows only
From the signed card at Christmastime
Indicating a tip is due.

For what, she wonders, their frequent lack
Of aim? But then they must be desperate
To drive slowly in the wreckage of a car—
Which she imagines never having risen
To witness the loyal delivery of bad news.

Like fog, a notion becomes a codicil to weather.
Its refusal to lift engages the meteorologist’s
Love of alarm.
So many flights canceled
Travelers disappointed
Or possibly relieved.

Judgments made as the fog thickens
And all a driver hears are shrieks
Of brakes in the distance.
A screen of pileups
On the evening forecast.

Nothing here summons
The whimsy of cat feet.
It’s the shot and beer of frugal conversation.
Days like this:
Hooded and discreet
As women hurrying to market.

Poets love the fog. It relieves them
Of a need for opinion:
Clarity and concision.
A poem suggests the fog
Is simply more rebellious spirits
Falling out of favor.
It might be the limbo
Of perpetual confusion
Assaulted with the indulgences
That fractured the Vatican.
It might be the inversion
Of a god’s mercurial temper.
It might be the feathers combed
From Pegasus’ pasterns

The fact is fog scuttles ships on dismal coasts,
The way, as strolling lovers believing in its mystery
Begin to quarrel as they lose the way
They meant to go.



Pitiless crowds throng the avenue
Of ruin while we dine
On prime rib and baked potatoes
Garnished with sour cream and chives.

Fat geese recline along the riverbank.
Windows wreathed with Christmas lights.
A little snow has fallen. Far off, the desert sun
Scorches a blasted hotel. A child wanders

Crying. We celebrate a season
Of gilt and greed. Speak of fellowship
While people die of cholera somewhere distant
As Bethlehem from Dickens.

We drop coins into the drumming kettles.
Mouths of desperation open wide.
We wrap presents in scarlet paper
To give to those with lists.

The ragged child walks the raddled streets,
Barefoot and seeking. We decorate the tree
With tinsel silvery as tracers that bombard
The besieged city.

My son was born to die
Says the woman sitting in a dollhouse.
The outer wall blown off
When the world exploded.

The air still heavy with dust.
Flurries begin to whiten
The holiday into a
Perfect sepulcher.



She squandered all her money
Out of loneliness
Then feared
Becoming a bag woman.
What she meant was that we
Must take her in.

We shared the house of
Resentment and love
Which is the lot of families.
There is no way to save
Enough to forgo worry.

When she lost her sight
The doctor said she had
Outlived her eyes.
It seemed cruel
So frankly spoken.

She craved comfort,
Made me promise.
I swore and honored
That assurance
Through all the sleepless nights
Of panic over time and money,
How we would manage—
The lesson is you manage
When you have no choice.

Guilt and sorrow and relief
Sweep the floors of the dead.
If you think you know what you wanted—
What she wanted
You would be wrong.



She used silence.
He used absence.
But they knew.

At the novena, she mouthed prayer
With the other wounded women
In woolen coats and headscarves.

And he at his club testing
The telephoto lenses. The precision
Of containment.

How anger is expressed by the weak
Without diffidence or style

A jitterbug of unleashed intentions.
Not the tango they had invented,
Measured steps, heads
Swiveling with a snap

Like face cards on a table
To claim a win.

About the contributor

Joan Colby is published widely in journals. Awards include two Illinois Arts Council Literary Awards, Rhino Poetry Award, the new renaissance Award for Poetry, and an Illinois Arts Council Fellowship in Literature. Her poems are winners of the 2014 and 2016 Atlanta Review International Poetry Contest. Published works include, ‘Selected Poems’ which received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize “and “Ribcage” which won the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. She is a senior editor of FutureCycle Press and an associate editor of Good Works Review.

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