The Dollhouses of the Dead

Spring 2007

To see the past better,
you had to climb a little ladder,
the Dutch dollhouse was so tall.
In the attic of the seventeenth century,

nothing dared be out of order;
four maids saw to that, the lady of the house
left standing by her bed, empty-handed,
dressed in gold silk. She wouldn’t meet

the mirror’s gaze. She couldn’t be made to sit.
In the nursery next door, a tiny back was turned:
a child waiting to be fed, not by her mother
but by a nurse hidden in shadow.

Or was she to be teased by her brother,
a gingerbread boy in velvet and lace?
There were linens to be pressed,
but not by him. The blankest of sheets,

they waited as if to be sewn into books.
History, you are rubbed with spices
from the Far East, just a basket
of gamebirds on their way to the spit.

II
Before she went into hiding,
did a Jewish girl named Anne stand
on those steps in the Rijksmuseum,
to see a normal day in 1690?

To see the past better,
I had to climb her steep Dutch stairs
to an attic stripped bare in 1944.
But first I looked down into a model of it

As if a family of dolls—merchant and wife,
two teenage daughters—had just stepped out
for an afternoon—there, in miniature,
was what her father, who survived the war,

remembered. The scrap of ugly carpet.
A map the size of a postage stamp,
where red dots followed, like pinpricks of blood,
the tracks of the Allies from Normandy.

The pictures his youngest had cut from magazines
and pasted to the wall of her narrow room—
O dead starlets of the thirties,
may history be kind to you here.

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