Helen Lambert

Three poems

The Russian Doll Cutter

Inside the Russian doll, as every child
knows, is another doll, which though smaller
is made from the same wood, and can be twisted at the waist, just above

the doll’s painted hands, to reveal another doll
which, though smaller, is made from the same wood
and has the same painted eyes, and can be twisted at the waist, just above

the doll’s painted hands, to reveal another
doll, whose little hands beckon you to open
her too, very carefully, as one cracks a quail’s egg

within which you find another doll, whose hands are now
smaller than small, barely hands, something like leaves
from a tiny oak, and you twist her open, the wood so

soft and thin, to reveal another doll, whose tiny shape
now fits between your thumbs, whose painted eyes
seem large because so small, of course

you twist her open to reveal another doll, with tiny
lips and eyes like dots and a waist which twists to reveal
another doll, which as every child knows, is the end

of the dolls, not the infinite. Resolutely shut,
the last doll is different, openly indifferent
though she is also made of wood.

Through this last doll, your mind goes
just to check there’s no secret behind
the secret, no doll of dolls, with her own tiny

wooden soul, painted or un, wooded or sapped
-up, bluntly sawing, slicing, chopping
at her waist, tough as birch-bark, light as

leaf-light, bluntly slicing, your mind
sawing through painted cheeks, hands,
the bean of wood that can’t be twisted

to the un-cut, a chip on the table, a stump.
Big hands still sweating on the idea
of the doll, a singular doll

with one name and seven faces, no
opening, no opening, no opening

a smell of Pushkin’s sweet oak, or
Gogol’s dirty overcoat, a thing
that wants, that wants, that wants.

You put her back, each doll inside the other. The stump
in her brittle skins, so fatally unhappy. She screams,
throws swords, lays waste, you believe she

challenges fate to step outside. Her fate. What is fate to her,
but a rock, a stump, your knife. The dysha in the Matryoshka!
What a con, yet how she talks for such a cheap thing:

what poems she wages, what ideals she torches, as she rattles
her seven faces against one well-loved wooden crack.

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