The Dolls, for Elisabeth Fritzl By Jeanann Verlee

Josef Fritzl imprisoned his daughter Elizabeth in the cellar of their home for 24 years. Among countless other abuses, he repeatedly raped her, resulting in the birth of seven children.

“The cellar in my building belonged to me and me alone – it was my kingdom…”
-Josef Fritzl

I built you a brood.
Used a tiny hammer and miniature chisels,
smoothed each little elbow with sandpaper,
hinged their joints with twine and wire
clipped from hangers.
Gave then button eyes and marshmallow lips,
made their clothes from tissue and the string
I once pulled from a pigeon’s nest.

Six perfect toy soldiers, just for you.
Seven, if you count the one in the incinerator.
He was blue as a robin’s egg. His limbs,
limp as an unstrung marionette.
When you burned him, our home bloomed
with the scent of chicory and cloves
like Christmas.

The six survivors
hanging from my breasts
do not know my name.

The three you took away
used the word “lost” as if wandering
the supermarket or a parking lot.

Yet there they were: perched canaries
at grandmother’s window,
slurping spiced pumpkin soup,
calling you “Uncle,”
wearing their faces inside-out.

The three you left in the dungeon with me
have grown into ghosts.
Veal calves, raised without sunlight,
born for slaughter.
They stroke the rats like puppies,
play hide and seek with roaches,
eat each other’s scabs.

You clever craftsman,
built me a doll house.
Turned me into doll maker.

Puppets with hinged jaws,
painted lashes that never blink,
porcelain hands, wooden feet,
and Father, look!
they all have your eyes.


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