Orphaned from the girl who bought and loved them
the dolls were packed tightly into a suitcase
and floated gently down the canals of Xochimico
to the Isla de Munecas and into the waiting embrace of
Don Julian Santana Barrera.
In the unpacking, a girl doll, a life-size two-year-old,
with a dress, hand-work all over, silk socks and slippers
caught Don Julian’s stare.
Frozen in a bald passion, an absent gaze
just like his own, eyes white with fever,
so tired, almost asleep, Don Julian imagined
her dreaming of awakening in her new country.
She smelled of antiseptic and the other dolls
had matted hair, small melts in their plastic body,
as if they had been boiled in a huge pot.
Except for her, all were bent into incredible postures,
a tortured series of poses no human could maintain.
The last two removed were eyeless, armless stone dolls
too heavy for a child’s play, the kind placed in a
Royal Princess’ Egyptian Tomb as a curse hedge.
The island air smelled stiffly of
dirty linen, mold, and soiled dreams.
All around where the tangled limbs of
Banyan trees reaching out to everything,
forming a grove of madness. They blocked
the afternoon sun and hovered over
Don Julian, a curious little girl
above a new sister.
Hanging down from them on vines,
strips of linen, gentle silk threads,
old and brittle fishing lines,
the coils out of broken watches,
the flotsam of whatever washed ashore,
where the decapitated play things that
composed Isla de Munecas population.
Wedged in the exposed roots of the Banyans
plastic heads stared out to Don Julian.
From the gypsy ground more stiff child faces
half-buried in the subsoil looked up at him.
Limbs that had fallen off were replaced
with Banyan twigs poking through.
The few plush ones were decaying,
changing back to string and dust
that danced dream-puffs as they
floated down to Don Julian’s boots.
The older, still intact figures, have long
been colonized by the Island’s
ever present wasp swarms.
At night, their phosphorescent mold
turned everything into a green candle
Don Julian kissed the cheeks
and gently caressed the back
of the perfect little porcelain skin
child in his fatherly embrace.
He wondered why such a
sweet wonderful unbroken thing
had been placed in his trust
and marooned to this broken place.
A delicate wind breathed among the Banyans
and the munecas swayed into each other
face to face, ear to ear,
almost kissing, almost whispering,
one to the other, producing the dull thudding
wind chime noise, the island’s only music,
that Don Julian now customarily ignored.
He maneuvered with the doll
in his outstretched arms
through the small foot trail
to his thatched hut
the grove reluctantly
permitted through the years.
The hut was plebeian—
only a straw mattress ,
well worn wooden table,
a small clay oven,
and its sole extravagance,
an authentic king’s chair
carved in the conquistador style.
Don Julian posed her in the chair
upright, regal, straight,
the way he remembered
seeing Queen Isabella in the pages
of La Historia de Espana.
Outside, the wind became defiant, angry.
In its abuse the dolls got louder
with each penetrating gust
until their memory name,
branded, stenciled, tattooed
on their back and now scarred over
was exposed in shameful revelation:
María del ojo ensangrentado,
Juana del brazo y las piernas rotas,
Alma del alma perdida,
Frida la escaldada,
Lupe la hambrienta,
Anna de las calles sin hogar,
Pilar la asesinada…
until every death was revealed.
The wind pulled open the door
and Don Julian felt his arms stiffen,
the rest of his body harden
his five senses abandon him,
his lungs no longer exhale,
his heart no longer beat,
until he was just porcelain and plastic.
The doll felt flesh being formed,
the inhalation-exhalation of new lungs,
the beating of a virgin heart,
a world proclaiming her queen.
Translation of the Spanish names:
(Maria of the bloody eye)
(Juana of the broken arm and legs)
(Juana of the broken arm and legs)
(Alma of the lost soul)
(Frida the scald)
(Lupe the starved)
(Anna of the homeless streets)
(Pilar t murdered)