The Dolls

There once was a tale of the strangest of toys,

just a myth, only legend - or so it appears - ,

and someone who tasted its tempting, dark joys

in the hottest of summers, the driest of years.


There once lived a girl in the land of Brabant,

seven brothers and sisters, and often alone,

who found in the attic, where none ever went,

a box full of dolls made of colourful stone.

A nut was the chapel, a ribbon the street,

for the pond a small, water-filled bowl was at hand,

the wall made of spoons, and the garden a sheet,

ten bricks were the village, the attic - Brabant.

The dolls were the women, the men and the cattle

the children, the farm-hands, all those whom she knew,

the green ones, the grey ones, eighty-nine altogether,

and the last one was her: a small stone of pale blue.

She played at the life 'round her as she'd have liked it

to be, not as things really were.

The baker's wife gave away cookies for free,

the cane broke, the teacher took off for the sea,

every girl wore a rose in her hair.

High up in the attic a child pushed the playthings,

small phantoms of colour in shadowy light,

the villagers followed the paths on the floor-boards

without ever fathoming whom the obeyed.

The girl grew aware of the power she wielded,

she was at the rudder, they went where she steered,

she punished, rewarded, she bid and they yielded,

in the hottest of summers, the driest of years.


And Michil drew gold from the well in the yard,

the pigs of Aunt Grietje all died.

Hubertus the lout got his long-earned beating,

Truus became pregnant, and Brabo the cheating

brat broke a leg in a fight.

On she went playing, her duties neglected,

the attic all heavy and drowsy with heat.

Her stories, her dreams and her world got connected,

the dolls seemed to call her, the dolls took the lead.

She spoke to her mother: "The dolls are awakening,

moving all by themselves in the night.

Some seem to resemble my sisters and brothers

and yesterday eve I heard one of the others

suddenly laughing outright.

But her mother rebuked her, her dad turned away,

and the war in the attic was opened that day.

"The heat is to blame!" said the farmers, not minding

the bittersweet odour of danger and fear.

The shadow grew longer. The world was unwinding

in the hottest of summers, the driest of years.


Yet worse grew the heat, as the summer went on.

The dolls sat in judgement, they ruled and condemned.

The girl was afraid, she felt something go wrong

and ruefully prayed: "This was not my intent."

The mood in the village turned frantic and loud.

A flock fled the day it was sheared.

The grain in the mill was devoured by mice,

and Els bore a child with no mouth and no eyes,

that night the old priest disappeared.

Sickness and injuries, strife and misfortune -

the girl, full of terror, grew silent and wan,

awake in the night-time, despairing and tortured,

trying to stop while the game carried on.

The heat and the village, a maelstrom of madness,

and she at the centre, though no-one would see,

just once in the evening she whispered in sadness:

"Mother, the dolls - they are playing with me."

But her mother, she sighed and her dad turned away,

and limits and reason where lost in the fray.


At sunrise they found her adrift in the pond.

They lowered her onto the grass.

The drops in her hair were like jewels of light,

her face pale and tired, her eyes opened wide

with a gaze as of shattered, green glass.

And her mother, she cried, and her dad turned away

and climbed up the stairs to the attic this day.

And rainstorms are beating the shingles and timbers,

in twilight the playthings, so small and alone,

he lifts up the bowl with his trembling fingers,

down at the bottom - - - a shining blue stone.

No bard knows the meaning, no sage knows the reason,

yet again - myth and truth are akin, it appears.

The rain brought the end and a brief autumn season

to the hottest of summers, the driest of years.


The game of the dolls disappeared within hours,

though they searched in Brabant and the duchies around,

Forgotten and lost were the stones and their powers,

till one day in Venice - strange playthings were found . . .

Eva, 24th of July 2002
For the Van Daele familiy
(Translation: Crystal & Eva)

Text in Original Language

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