When I showed up at the psychiatrist seeking help for my night terrors, the first question the doctor asked was whether as a child I had played with dolls. I was incensed—a thirty-something lawyer in charge of my own life, and he was reverting to some Freudian hooey? Better he should have asked why as a child I insisted on climbing higher and higher in the trees on the farm until the limbs became branches so thin they swayed in the wind, making me whoop and holler with joy.
And yet. I loved Thumbelina, whose body wiggled when I turned the crank on her back. And Chatty Cathy, who repeated herself ad nauseum but, hey, she talked. And the grownup doll who stood inside her traveling trunk that held seamed stockings and suits with matching pill-box hats. If I could call every one of these dolls back into my life I would. The next best thing is reading Doll God, by Luanne Castle.
Luanne’s beautiful new collection of poetry arrived when I was recovering from hip surgery. I slowly turned the pages, absorbing the lovely images. Not all the poems are about dolls, of course. One of my favorite, “When a Leaf Falls,” describes a quiet evening at home where “lamplight casts a golden sheen” and:
The girl would be happy forever except
for that feeling
like a boulder held just above.
She can’t get too
as anything could unbalance it.
An extra star in tomorrow’s sky, rain
or no rain
could re-set it all.
Luanne’s words do for me what I want poetry to do: lead me gently down a twisting path where I cannot see the next turn yet the revelation of what’s round the corner is always a delight. Even for something as familiar to me as my beloved Scarlett O’Hara Madame Alexander doll, Luanne surprises:
Like me this doll is studious
with thick legs,
has been a victim of potients
and infatuated with love,
though tenderness has nestled close to danger.
I look closely to confirm she’s been martyred.
“The Half-Undressed Madame Alexander Doll: A Diorama.”
I’ve read and re-read the poems, luxuriating over them, which is as good a recommendation for anything as I can give. I’m particularly drawn back to the doll poems, mining them for insight that the silly psychiatrist with his hand over his mouth could never have fathomed. Or as Luanne says in “Prospective Ghost’s Response to the First Duino Elegy, “Master, I am still looking for angels.”