June 3, 2016

Three Poems by Jenny Kalahar: "Confessions of a Paper Doll," "The Neighbor," and "The Portraits in Our Backyard."

Jenny Kalahar, a used & rare bookseller, lives in Elwood with her husband and pets in an old schoolhouse full of old books. She is the author of three novels, Shelve Under C: A Tale of Used Books and Cats, its sequel, The Find of a Lifetime, and This Peculiar Magic. She also has published a collection of poetry, One Mile North of Normal and Other Poems. She the treasurer for the Indiana State Federation of Poetry Clubs and writes a twice-monthly humor column/blog in Tails Magazine. She helms Last Stanza Poetry Association in Elwood and is at work writing a fourth novel.

Antique paper dolls and paper toys to make - Joyce hamillrawcliffe - Picasa Web Albums:

Confessions of a Paper Doll

I’ve been punched out
Left with tiny paper beads
At evenly-spaced points around my outline
I feel flat on most days
I feel put away at night
Shut up in some old encyclopedia
So tightly that I cannot read a single word about ectoplasm
Or ecological breakdown
Or about ectothermic animals

I feel useless unless played with
By the red-jellied hands
Of two chattering little girls
But when those girls of mine wrap a gingham sundress around my frame
And stand me up inside my brightly-painted cardboard farmhouse
I feel . . .
I am given my dog’s yarn leash to hold
And we listen to cheerful children’s songs
On warpy, scratchy records
As the sun slides gently through the poked-out windows
Of my three-sided corrugated home

The girls sit cross-legged with cups of lemonade tea
To tell Bowser and I the stories of our lives
How I used to labor all day at a Las Vegas soda fountain
And spent long nights as a beautician to mannequins
I was tipped in tokens instead of coins
Until I’d earned enough to leave the city behind for my simple home
Situated on five square feet of green-dyed sawdust farmland
With plastic army-men field workers
And coloring-book cut-out sheep
Where Bowser was already living
Herding cats when he wasn’t giving piano lessons
Or teaching the alphabet to cats

But I must confess that I don’t remember my old life
I don’t remember anything at all
Before being punched from my playbook

Is this early-onset doll dementia?
Or has my whole life been make-believe?

The Neighbor

After a neighbor’s passing away
I stepped into her home again next morning
Given a key by her sister,
Permission to take what I liked.
There, where everything was peachpink,
Dusted with old-lady skin cells and rose perfume
And hushed with thick draperies closed against life
I found things I’d never expected

In her roll-top desk
Where I’d seen her writing letters
Were stone fingers in a tiny drawer—
Behind been-there picture postcards
Behind bird stamps from around the world—
Three fingers, none matching
None of equal size
As if she’d visited museums
And took home samples as souvenirs

In another drawer were unmounted diamonds
Individually wrapped in yellowing tissue paper
Like baby teeth kept for mementoes
Each tissue, when unfolded, had a date and address:
Postmarks of her thievery.
And behind the diamonds, in a secret nook
Were stuffed torn-up ransom notes.
I made out “ever alive again you’ll send”
And “unmarked bills,” and more.
Mismatched cut-out letters from magazines—
The scraps she’d never used

Who could have suspected a thing like this of her?
Not I, after all of my afternoon visits for cocoa or tea.
As I stuffed my purse full with diamonds and fingers,
Rare coins and blackmailing notebooks
I wondered if the necklace she’d given me
On my birthday when I was a child
Was not made of glass and glue
But of gemstones, after all

And was that funny foreign currency
We’d played Monopoly with some Sunday nights
Really genuine bills from around the world
And not play money, as I’d thought?

Back home, I made a pot of raspberry tea
And toasted Miss McCleary
Flipped through the blackmail notes and laughed
And looked up values on those coins.
What fun she must have had for decades!
But, oh—I never knew

I phoned her sister right away
Said I’d buy the house and all its contents.
I would set myself up in her old business, I would
And turn my whole world peachpink shades.
I’d write the congressmen for payments first
Let them know I was “in possession.”
What a thrilling life I was sure to have
All alone in rooms scented with rose perfume
Draperies closed against life and light
As my new skin cells mingled with the old

The Portraits in Our Backyard

The portraits painted on slate were here
Before we had arrived
Before the previous owner, as well
We have no history of them
But add our own stories, intertwined
Like rich, red holly
Twines around their frames

Southern smilax overtakes a bowing head
A lawnmower long dead hides a sleeping child
The rusted tire-swing chain off its tire
Is now a necklace for an unnamed king
A shower bouquet of last year’s morning glory
Blues the dresses of a church maid by a lake
And where the un-mown grass grows tallest
It seems to make a jungle around the legs
Of a penguin quite out of place

A baby, pink and fat
A spoon clutched in one sweet, fat hand
Is swarmed all day by bees that hive
In the wooden milk crates at her side
She’s never, ever been stung once
We’ve named her Honey—
Our Honey bunch

I sit on my sloping wooden back-porch stairs
Visiting with these quaint old pals
Or sometimes watch through window panes
As they are washed anew in pounding rains
My silent, listening, waiting friends
Their creator painter will never see again

When we have a child some year, yes
I’ll give him fairy dyes and brushes
To paint the portraits back to life.
The king will smile at his wife
Their baby dear will kiss her bees
The penguin shall waddle through his grass
To help re-hang the tire swing
All together we will sing
Songs freed from decades in the sod
Songs in freshened colors, odd
If we should ever mow this lawn    

~Jenny Kalahar 

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