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The Doll House
John Ruff (bio)

     For Helen O’Rourke

You wake as if into a dream, just a girl again
in your old bed. A man’s asleep beside you—
now you remember, he’s your husband,
and the little girl sleeping at the foot of the bed

is his daughter. It’s all coming back now:
you’re the stepmother in this story,
and you know you will be wicked
because you’re late, the real mother

will be waiting, and it will be all your fault.
You pull on some clothes, stuff your things
into a bag, angry there’s no time to shower,
to have breakfast, to sit with your mother

on the sofa drinking coffee. Now your father
tells you the backseat’s not big enough to take
both your doll house and your stepdaughter,
and the trunk is full of beach towels

your mother bought for the homeless kids
you work with at the school, there’s no room
for them, of course, anywhere in the world,
so what are you crying about? Because you’ve

got a cold, because you couldn’t sleep and
your jeans don’t fit because you’re pregnant?
And where did you think you’d put it,
your three story Victorian farmhouse with barn,

out buildings and a wishing well—for heaven’s
sake a wishing well in your tiny apartment.
Now you are wishing you were that girl again
on an endless afternoon gluing sticks together

to make beds and matchboxes for dressers.
You wish it were that easy, scrounging mattresses
for the shelter. You wish you could believe again
that cardboard keeps the wind out.

John Ruff

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