A week or so ago, I went for a walk by Lake Geneva and found a stone beach with all kinds of driftwood, rubbish and objects washed up on it. A plastic doll’s leg caught my attention, lying just next to a soaked, black walking boot. On the rocks, someone had built a structure – like a bender – out of driftwood. It reminded me of dens I used to build as a child.
I kept thinking about the leg and wishing I had taken it. Anna had been finding objects relating to little girls and dolls, a hat, a mitten, toys like the maraca. On Thursday I went back to the beach and couldn’t see the leg. I was about to leave, but then I noticed it woven into the bender with a net. I untangled it and took it home. On the way, I met a whole doll – a blue one.
As soon as I got home, I sat down and wrote five freewrites, all around the plastic doll’s leg and the boot. I then wrote them into five first-draft poems. I’ve never had such an intense gust of writing – I felt almost unnerved.
Among the Driftwood
bottle tops and empty toothpaste tubes,
a doll’s pink leg, its severed plastic joint no longer joined,
pressed against dead leaves and stone. A baby’s arm away,
a man’s black walking boot, swollen with the weight of tide.
Both soles flex in one direction, as if two bodies lay there
side by side, a giant and a naked child, as mist rose off the lake
and passers-by breathed in the mountains tops and trees.
Somewhere a doll is crippled, a baby cries.
A black sole pins a child’s calf against cold kitchen tiles.
A man runs fingers up the inside of a plastic thigh.
Somewhere there are sirens, bags and tape.
Another broken toy, another beach, another leg.
Perhaps they journeyed from the same house,
black Velcro bobbing against plastic,
pink toes brushing the imprints of the sole.
Near enough to hear each others’ thoughts,
to smell the seaweed tide that clung to them,
glimpse syringes and green bottles
washed up along their shore.
Perhaps a father snapped, and with a reflex
from his boyhood, snatched his daughter’s
favourite doll and ripped it, leg from socket,
flung it in the stream behind their home.
That night, she crept down to the back porch,
lifted her father’s walking boot with twig-thin arms
and carried it across the dark. The splash
made tiny spots appear along her spine.
The current dragged it out of sight.
Perhaps she smiled, knowing they’d rock up together
on some city beach, two punishments laid side by side.
Perhaps a string of other body parts would follow,
an arm, a plastic head. Perhaps one day the father,
swimming downstream to look for his girl.
I found a pink doll’s leg bent at the knee
lying in a pile of leaves and plastic bags.
Just next to it, a walking boot
mimicking the angle of its pointed foot.
I thought of taking it, but didn’t want to touch
the tiny toes, the grooves of its open stump.
A week later, I returned and saw it hanging
from a driftwood house, a beam of severed limb
like the chicken legs that carry Baba Yaga’s hut.
I unwound it, held it in my hands.
I washed it in the bathroom sink
running my fingers over the curve of its calf.
It smelt of birds and compost. It tasted like skin.
The Missing Leg
The baby arrived in parts.
The head, patched with yellow gunk,
the scrunched red cheeks. The eyes
were frog eyes, leaping from the face.
Then came the neck and shoulders,
nothing pink about them.
The chest was buckled by the arms,
ten sticky fingers itched the air.
The bottom came, sunken
as cheeks with all the breath blown out.
One leg poked into sight, one tiny foot emerged,
toes parted like five perfect nipples held erect.
But on the other side, an absence.
A stump, like a knot of umbilical mass.
The missing leg filled up the room, like light
through the rose windows of a cathedral.
My Father’s Dolls
My father brought me dolls.
Babies with a hint of fat about their thighs,
barbies whose feet were shaped like heels,
wide Russian ladies to unpack.
I’d eye each new arrival, check her sockets,
run my fingers through her flimsy nylon hair.
My princesses knew the sound of scissors,
the tightening of rope against their powdered skin.
The more beautiful, the worse their torture;
eyelashes torn off, pearl toenails ripped.
In the water vat behind my father’s shed
I’d drown them, stain them to brunettes.
I’d leave a floating leg for him to find,
so he’d know his daughter wasn’t fooled.
I knew what happens to girls with pretty limbs
who hanker after gifts.
Working with Anna, I don’t feel as ‘in control’ of my writing as I usually do. This is a very good thing. I feel permission to play and to write beyond my comfort zone. Walking a lot helps too. I not only find objects that correlate with Anna’s, but I’ve discovered I have most of my ideas while walking. When I get back to London I plan to continue this, hopefully with Anna.