“Russian Doll” explores motherhood from a viewpoint of a daughter who reaches adulthood and becomes a mother, looking at both challenges and delights in the littlest doll gaining layers of experience as she’s seen to transform into an adult outer-doll who still contains the dreams and memories of the smallest. It’s split into two parts “Daughter-doll/Doll-daughter” and “Mother-doll/Doll-mother”. From the first, in “Shades of Red” the daughter’s Russian mother is late for a school play, “Striking in fuchsia” leaving the daughter a shade of crimson,
“and turn into the smallest
version of myself –
the littlest Russian doll,
the only most easily lost;
almost, but not quite,
The littlest doll is also the one that doesn’t come apart, the one who stands complete. A inner strength that comes through in the poems that touch on the poet’s father’s death when she was aged 15. In “Matryoshka”, after the funeral, some dolls are taken apart some are “some shut tight, permanently locked in grief,” which leaves,
“The littlest doll found herself rattling around
in the wrong size body,
suddenly bulky with responsibilities
and listening to echoes.
To all eyes an adult, within, a child.”
The implication is that in the transition from child to adult, we don’t shed layers, we gain them. The intact baby doll is wrapped in experience and expectation. The external appearance is of an adult but the speaker still feels her inner child, hesitant and lacking confidence.
Part II, shifts to a mother’s viewpoint, starts with an effective triolet in “Making Heartroom”, the opening and closing couplet is,
“This mother’s womb grows day by day,
but so too does her heart.”
The theme here is picked up again in “Hooke’s Law” where a mother worries about sharing love between two children discovers when the second’s born that, “We mothers have hearts that do not obey/ the laws of physics;/ we have no elastic limits.”
In the title poem, the mother looks back to her younger self, assessing which dreams became reality, which didn’t as the external doll has thickened with layers of self,
“worn smooth by little hands
what dismantle me daily.
I answer with excuses and apologies.
Life intrudes, I explain;
takes us apart
and rebuilds us askew.”
A mother’s lot is to be worn by love and caring, her children might delay or completely derail her ambitions until they are independent and those unforgotten ambitions demand attention. But the ambitions a mother had before motherhood may no longer be relevant or may have to be adjusted to accommodate a new perspective or technology. Demands of family life may have depleted available resources.
“The Russian Doll” is an exploration of transition from daughter to motherhood, adding layers as the largest doll nests her smaller selves. At its heart, readers are reminded the smallest doll doesn’t break open. She provides the kernel that keeps love, dreams, desires intact and provides the thread of the matrilinear from outer adult to inner child.
Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.