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The Doll's Journey

The following poem is either a children's story for adults or an adult story for children, I'm not sure which. I like it, but that doesn't mean OLDER children will like it. I sent it to some poet friends, and all their wives loved it. If you are an adult, try reading it to your kids. If you are a kid, read it to your adults. Let me know how they like it.

By the way, it's written in blank verse. Look that up if it's new to you. Then, if you're an adult, explain it to your kids. If you're a kid, I don't know if it's worth trying to explain anything to an adult, but give it a shot: They need us, and we should never give up on them.

It's one of those stories that, if you don't like it, someday people will refer to you as the person who didn't like "The Doll's Journey", and then they'll all frown knowingly and decide not to bother asking for a raise and warn their children not to walk past your house after dark. (In other words, it's unabashedly corny. For some reason corny stuff is never abashedly corny.)

The idea for the poem came from a footnote in a biography of that great writer of children's stories, Franz Kafka. What the mysterious young man in this poem does, Kafka is said to have done in 1923 in Berlin toward the end of his being Kafka. I wonder what Kafka's doll had to say.

The Doll's Journey                                (click on image to see larger image)

"You never should have left it on the porch,"
Says mother. "Please stop crying. We can get
Another doll."
                    "She's GOT to be here somewhere!"
"Honey, it's gone. We've looked all morning."
No no NO!" And screaming, out the door she runs

And keeps on running down the block, tear blinded,
Stumbling, running, until she goes BOOMP!
Against a pole and falls, or rather sits
Down on the sidewalk, and keeps sitting, sobbing.

"Are you hurt?" asks...someone, bending over her,
A man's voice. "Sorry I didn't see you coming..."
She sobs and sobs and chokes and sobs some more,
Sees or doesn't see the blurred form kneeling
Beside her. "Where does it hurt?" A gentle voice,
Though anxious.
                          "Nothing...hur-urts. Suzie's...go-o-one!"
           "My Dollie's lost, I losted her."
Another wail, then, "We looked EVERYwhere.
Last night she sat out on the porch with me.
Mommy says that someone must of took her.
She walks and cries and opens her eyes and talks

And now she's gone forever!" More sobs until

She hears a barking noise, looks up to see
A tall skinny man REALLY a pole
Almost who coughs into a rumpled, brown
Specked handkerchief, hard coughs, his body wracked
And shivering, his loose gray suit
With each cough shaking. He can't seem to stop.

She watches and forgets to cry. He stops,
Catches his breath, her eyes, and says "Excuse me,
"I have a cold," and quickly stuffs the reddened
Rag into a pocket in his suit,
His eyes, holding hers, are curious, soft,
Pink rimmed, deep, sad -- but also like her Daddy's
When he's about to say a funny thing,
But Daddy's eyes are old and grown up.
This man looks at her like...a child? or like
A giant wise old bunny. Now he smiles,
Then reaches down and takes her hand. She stands.

"Your dollie..." "Suzie." "Suzie...was she about
So big?" He puts his hand level about two feet
Above the sidewalk a long and slender hand.
It's smooth. It bends and ripples when he talks.
(Later she'll remember the hand, the eyes
That made her want to laugh when she had thought
To sit and sob and never laugh again.)
"Yes, even bigger see..." She lifts his hand
An inch. It stays right there, her hand wrapped 'round
The thumb.

                    "Just as I thought. Well, then..." (His eyes
Shine darkly from the bony, sallow face)
"I have good news for you: Suzie's not lost!"
"She's NOT! Where IS she? Where?"
"Why I just met
                            Her earlier today, out for my walk
Just a few blocks from here. She saw I was
Heading this way and asked me, if I saw
A girl named...what's your name?"
                                                     "I'm Nancy Jane
            "Yes, surely you must be the one
She just said Nancy..."

                                        "Why then it MUST
Have been your Suzie..."
                                     "What'd she say!"

                                                                       "She said
Tell Nancy she was very sad to have
To leave so suddenly no time to say
Goodbye but she had gotten a free ticket
For a trip around the world, and had to run
To catch the plane..."
                                "A trip, can't I go too!"
"I asked her that. She said that it would break
Your mother's heart to take you away. Besides
You must go back to school. And she had just
One ticket, just for her. She didn't say
Who gave it to her, but she begged for one
For you as well, and he said it is all
Very well for dolls to fly about,
But girls should finish school..."
                                              "Why should I?"
She said she'd write, explain it all and tell
You all about each country that she sees
She knows your address, doesn't she?"
                                                            "Of course,
It's right down there, 1048 Elm Street."
"Why then, she'll write and tell you all about it!
She said she would and she looked like a very
Honest doll."
                  "When will she write?"
In two days in your mailbox see if there's
A letter there for Nancy Jane Conroy
I'm sure it will be there."
                                     "But I can't read...
So can my Mommy read it to me?"
Tell your mommy about it, no one else."
"Oh! It's a secret?"
                          "Suzie said so, yes!"

"But," she thinks, "I don't think dolls can write."
She doesn't ask the man, for fear his eyes
Might lose their mischief and be only sad,

The bean pole body shakes again with coughing.
Were he a child her age, she'd scoff, explain:
"A doll can't write!" Were he an older child
Or adult, knowing he teased, she'd tease him back,
But he is neither, not adult nor child,
And, like a doll, can never be, can never
Have been either. Because of his eyes, his speaking
Hands, she neither believes nor disbelieves,
But wonders what strange news will come to her
And where in two days Suzie will have gone.
But how can a doll travel? Well, she's gone,
Isn't she?

           Beside the man, who slows
His long stride, she skips and steps and chatters
About her older brother, best friend, Pat,
And how she once had measles, but has never
Gone round the world. Before her house, they say
Goodbye, so eager, she, to run inside
And tell her Mom about the secret letters,
She hardly notices how he walks away

(Though later knows he turned once more to wave;
And that's the last she ever sees of him,
Though she looks down the block in later years
To see him walking -- sometimes thinks it's he,
But always it is someone else). She never
Asked his name. But now she has no time
To think if someone's gone; her doll is found.

"My, you've cheered up who was that man?" asks Mother.
"He met my Suzie! Suzie isn't losted
She's on an airplane, on a trip all over!
She said so!"
                "That's nice that's what HE told you?"
"He said he saw her and she'll write me letters
I get one in two days!"
                                   "Ohhh..., I see,"
Says Mother, frowning slightly. "Go wash up
It's time for lunch."

                           Dull tink of mailbox lid,
Clatter of feet on stairs: "It's HERE! It's HERE!

That's MY name, Nancy! Look! The letter's here!"

Dropping her basket of dirty clothes in the hall,
Mom takes the envelope no return address,
For Nancy Jane Conroy, each letter printed
In ink. She strokes her daughter's hair: "Calm down
It IS for you let's find out what it says."

Now she sits on the bed her daughter's bed,
The child kneeling behind her, chin against
Her shoulder, but she can't stop bouncing, bouncing
Lightly on the mattress, eager, waiting...
"There that's my name again!"
                                              "Yes, it says
Dear Nancy...," spidery penmanship, but plain,
As if the writer went out of his way
To write slowly and clearly.
                                       "Is it from Suzie?"
"So it says at the end, see, 'All my love,
       "I knew it! Read it! Read it, please!"

First Suzie says how sorry she was to leave
So suddenly, but on the way to the plane,
She met a funny looking man to whom
She gave a message "He's NOT funny looking!
He was NICE!" which she hopes was received.
"It was. By me!"
                       "And now I'm in the most
Exciting place, New York! The buildings touch
The sky, the police ride horses, and the streets!
So many cars and people every which way
That sometimes they jam up so none can move
At all, but up above, a policeman flies
A yellow helicopter with red stripes
("See there's a drawing of a helicopter").
When he sees things stop still, he flies right down,
Picks up a person with his person plucker
It doesn't hurt ("See there's the people plucker"
A drawing, tongs, retractable), and that
Opens a hole in the crowd so one can move
And then one more and then another one,
And soon ALL the people, cars and stores
(For they have moving food stores on the street)

Can move again, so the policeman gives the man
He plucked an ice cream cone and sets him down
Near where he wants to go. The ice cream cone
Is so he won't feel bad, for it is quite
A shock to suddenly hang in the sky
When you thought you were standing in the street."

(Much later in New York she sees the buildings,
The crowds, a policeman on a horse, and even
A helicopter hovering overhead,
Knows it has no tongs, but gets stiff necked
Watching the helicopter, wondering.)

Suzie says much much more about New York,
The peacocks in the park who talk like parrots,
Trains that run underground, a giant statue
That holds a torch "Statues," says Suzie, "can talk
To dolls; they're much the same, but old and wise
And very tired. The statue with a torch
Talked very slowly, said her arm was stiff
From holding up the torch so long, but she
Liked doing it. And every hundred years
A strong man holds the torch for her a while
So she can rest. But she was sad she couldn't
Travel like me, so I told her about
Our house and all my friends, especially
Nancy, and having tea parties on the porch
And streets with wooden houses and elm trees.

She said she couldn't visit you, but hoped
You'd visit her someday I said you would.
I wish you could be here with me right now,
But the man who brought the ticket Tuesday night
When I was sleeping out on the front porch
Said it was only good for dolls. He was
A fat man with a mustache, very jolly.
He wore a tall green hat ("See here's a drawing.")
And pants with stripes. He said, 'But we must hurry!
Come, come! We're late!' I said I wouldn't go
Without YOU, but he told me you would want
Your doll to go and see the world and tell
You all about it. Besides, he said no doll
Could move all by itself unless the lady
Who cared for it (and he called YOU the lady)
Wanted it to. So you must want me to,

Because I can. The dolls I've met in New York
Just lie there, stiff and still. I talked with one,
But the girl who held her didn't hear a thing.

This doll couldn't travel by herself quite sad,
I thought because the girl didn't think she could.
I'm glad you've made me able to take this trip.
I know someday you'll see these places too.
Tomorrow I'll be in London, and I'll write
You all about it."
                         "When will the letter come?"
"We'll have to wait and see maybe tomorrow."
"Will Suzie ever come home?"
                                            "She doesn't say
I guess we'll have to wait and see."
                                                    "Will I
Really get to go to New York someday?"
"Of course, when you get bigger, you can go
Yourself, or we can both go for a visit..."
"But when?"
                 "Honey, I've got a lot of things
To do. I just don't know right now. We'll see."
"But aren't we s'posed to write a letter back?"
"Where would we send it to?"
                                             "To Suzie...London!
Can't you write and send it there?"
                                                      "All right
What shall I say?"
                               "But don't you have to have
Paper to write it on?"

                                Now Mother sits
At the kitchen table, Nancy on a chair
beside her. "Say I miss her, but it's good
She gets to travel...Oh! and try to see
The King in London and that I will never
Get another doll, so please come home
Sometime and that..."
                                "Hold on let me catch up..."
"...That Billy's fine, in school but she knows that
Well, say to write some more, with lots of pictures
And that the man was nice, not really funny
Looking. I think he was the nicest man
I ever saw...that's all."

                                "OK now you
Write something too."
                                  "I don't know how!"
"You know your name, see, that's an N, an A..."
She prints the letters on a napkin, big
"Just copy that and that will say 'Nancy'."
"Ok and I can make a picture too!"

"Here! it's all done, so you can send it now."
"Let's see...it's very nice is that a boy?"
(The drawing shows a circle on two long sticks,
More circles eyes, the ears on top, a mouth...)
"I tried to draw that man, but I don't think
It's very good, but she'll know who it is."

(Years later, finding her letters to her doll
In a box in a drawer, she reads them over and over
And cries because she never saw the man
Again, then laughs, thinking, "He's on a trip
He writes me letters."

                              Letters, for two weeks,
Come every day and sometimes Mother gets
There first, and as excited as her child,
Cries out, "Look, Nancy, here's another one!"
And now the letters always start by thanking
Nancy for her letter, hoping Billy
Is doing well in school, and hoping Nancy
Has made her bed and brushed her teeth, and so forth.

(She finds these letters in the drawer too,
And just as she'd suspected as a child,
Though too polite to say, none of these things
Were written there; her mother made them up.)

But then, as soon as Nancy starts to squirm
And squawk "Suzie says THAT!", her mother says,
"But here, listen to this!" And the REAL letter
Begins, with chimney sweeps and fog and bridges
With castles and ghosts in London, and the King
And Queen -- how strange! For both are dolls like Suzie,
But much bigger it's kept a secret from
The English people who take care of them,

But they tell Suzie. And the restaurants
With tables in the middle of the street
In Paris, so they have to have small cars
To drive beneath the tables; odd named places:
Madeira, Bagdad, Budapest, Tibet
Each day another letter, a new place,

All secret she won't even tell her friend,
Although at times she's bursting just to tell,
As when, across the sandbox, she describes
The palace you can row with oars in Venice,
And Pat says, "How do YOU know?"
                                                         "Well...my Mom
Told me! Someday I'll go and see myself."
It would be fun to tell, but it is even
More fun not to. She almost hopes her dollie
Never does come back, but keeps on sending
Letters from everywhere.

                                      Dear Nancy, something
Very strange has happened: My plane has landed
On a green and purple island in the middle
Of the ocean I don't know its name. When I
Walked off the plane, why, who do you think was there?
The jolly fat man with the big mustache!
He took me to his house it's like an apple
With a door, but inside it's full of rooms
And stairs that go round and round as they go up
And windows that change colors. He said I
Had been a very good doll, that you must
Have taken very good care of me, since I
Turned out so good. So as a reward, he said,
He'd have me made into a little girl
A real one! Then I'd have my OWN best doll
And go to school and grow up, be a mommy
And have my own little girl someday, and SHE
Could have a doll like me! He said this island
Is the only place there is where a doll becomes
A little girl. He said it's a secret place,

But I could tell YOU, he said, because he knew
You wouldn't tell. I asked him, if I were a girl
Could I go back to you? He said, "No no,
A little girl can't have a little girl.

We know a mother who cries every night
Because she doesn't have a little girl.
You'd go to her, while Nancy would grow up
To have her own little girls." I said, "If I
Can't go home to Nancy as a girl,
I'll stay a doll." He said that wouldn't be right,
That you weren't selfish, wouldn't want to stop
Me from getting real. And besides, he said,
Someday when we're both people, we might meet
And know each other I could really talk
And tickle back each time you tickle me.

I said, "But how can a doll become a girl?"
"How can a doll write letters?" he asked "YOU can
Because you're a special doll, because you have
A girl named Nancy who believes in you.
And that's why we can make you real. It takes
A very special doll to become a girl."

So I decided you would want it, too
And so I'm glad, but also I'm so sad!
Tomorrow I will be a little girl
In a new home. He says it wouldn't do
To write more letters I'll be much too young
And won't remember how. He doesn't know
If I'll still know your name, but I am sure
I'll always know someone loved me so much
She let me go so I could be myself.

The change is starting already, and the world
Feels changed, for I can see things clearly now,
And much I used to see is faint like dreams
Before one wakes. So when you go to all
The places I've described, some of the things
I mentioned won't be there unless you can dream.
Soon I'll be real like you, I feel it happening,
But I still remember you, I WON'T forget.
I don't know if we'll ever meet again,
But I'll always love and thank you for this great
Joy that fills me up like a red balloon!
It makes me dizzy! If we don't meet as girls
Or grown ups, maybe there is something still
More real than people that we can become,
And we'll meet that way. Now I must lie down
To sleep. When I wake up, I'll be a girl

Like you, but younger. This is all I can write.
Thank you, Nancy, for letting me live. Goodbye
Until we meet again. All my love, Suzie.


"Why are YOU crying, Mommy? It's OK,
She gets to be real!"
                            "I'm sorry, Honey, sometimes
Mommies are silly." (When she reads the letters
Later, she sees the writing toward the end
Grow faint, uneven where the hand had trembled.)
"Mommy," she asked that night, "Do you think really
Suzie could write and change into a girl?
Or did the man I met write all the letters
So I wouldn't cry?"
                          "Which do you think?"
"Both. I think both did it. Yes they DID!"
"Maybe it's all the same but if it was
The man, do you think he did it just to stop
You from crying?"
                           "Well...maybe so he could be
My dollie or a little girl or else
So he could see the world and tell me about it...
But anyway both had to do it, since
If he did, so did Suzie."

                                 She never asked
Again about the man. She kept her promise to Suzie
And never got another doll. Her mother
Was never sure how much the child believed
Or had decided to believe, which is
The same. In later years, when they discussed it,
Nancy no longer knew herself. She never
Cried again for the loss of her doll until
She read the letters, wept, then laughed. By then
She'd traveled, seeing always the oddest things!
Dreaming always of someday becoming real.


Last Updated: December 26, 2003