The Tharu corn husk dolly’s face is a wrinkled straw mask with yarn crosses for eyes and no particular mouth. Her arms are held away from her sides so she can be propped against a pillow or tied to a pillar, and her waist is thick; good for child-bearing. Her back is slightly curled over with toil and her corn-head bulges, enough room for folksong and malady cures. There is a noose of grass tight around her throat to keep her grass hair tidy, and another around her ankles to hold her legs together. It’s how she was made. Her straw dress is long and modest so that unless you cared to look, you might not tell what held her together.

She is nothing like those dollies we made on messy, bored Sundays with rain angry at the windows; where we smudged Daily Mail ink with glue sticks and scissored at soggy pages until we had a chain of paper girls joined at the hands and feet — caught in the ritual of a party game. We dotted on eyes with permanent markers, inked in the black O of each mouth, not bothering with buttons or laces. Experimented with how small we could make the waists before they tore in half. Then we strung them across windows where they stuck to the condensation and curled over and over until their faces touched their knees, exposing the skeletons of last week’s headlines. It was the pose of weak women, hugging their knees to save themselves; girls with pricked fingers and grazed knees, swooning at the sight of their own blood.

Are they something alike? In small ways. Their hands are the first to fray. They flutter in bad weather; the wind shakes them and turns their skirts the way children turn in sleep as they endure their dreams. How well we admire their short existences. None of them last, weathered in windows and on fence posts; there just long to enough for their tethered feet and robbed faces to ask — is this all there is? Is this all?

 

Eleanor Walsh

Eleanor Walsh

Eleanor Walsh attended Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia where she studied English, and she later completed her MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University in the UK. She is now in Nepal on a doctoral research where she studies oral literature from low-caste communities in the Terai – a place where she draws much inspiration for her own poetry. The Nepalese villagers teach her how to harvest rice and often tell her to lighten up.

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