Doll God by Luanne Castle

In “Prototype,” the first poem in Doll God by Luanne Castle, the first lines state: “it began/a mirror for good.” Throughout Doll God, the living and the breathing, memories, are reflected on objects. Everything is fleeting, but what remains? Do the objects we hold dear have something like a memory of us? The first poems are full of dolls: Barbies, Polly Pockets, American Girls. Chubby cheeked doll babies and buggies. “Pastoral” takes this thread to the literal, when the speaker finds a discarded doll in the mud, “I know the mud will dry./If I leave her here, the earth/will begin its work./In a few more rainstorms/no sign will remain.” The speaker goes on to lament that there is no point in trying to salvage the doll: its ruined, with no one left to love it.

Doll God is filled with references to art and artists and the poems obsessively ask the question, “What remains?” One of my favorite poems is “Debris.” The speaker’s mother-in-law has died and they put all of her paintings into storage and the speaker lets this anxiety of impermanence, even when an effort has been made to leave something behind, come to the surface:

And now, I can’t get the image
out of my mind:
dried paint chipping,
the spread of mold pockmarks,
velour paper edges fraying, canvas rips, a gradual

fading into sand, then dust sifting down
to be layered over by debris
of another generation
always the sifting sand
like a dust storm

Like many poetry collections, there are poems that seem to belong together more than others. A few seem like filler – they are not necessarily bad poems, but they aren’t connected by the thread that unites the rest of the book. Two of the strongest poems come near the end in section four, “Bone Tumor Curettage and Grafting Aftermath” and “A Bone Elegy.” Perhaps it is because they cut a clearer narrative, which I am drawn to as a reader, but they still ask that same question of permanence that runs throughout the book. In “Bone Tumor” it is the scars left behind after a surgery and the possibility that the surgery will fail. “Bone Elegy” connects this same surgery with the death of a childhood friend and contains a lovely stanza:

Leah and I caught bullfrogs in the marshland,

stranded our little brothers on the raft across the lake.

The three of us were intimate

as guppies: Leah, Luanne, the lake.

The lake itself is called Three-Lakes-in-One.

We dived off the Sunfish,

our hair behind us like swampgrass

as we rose out of the water,

sharp as scalpels.

It goes on “What repair can be made now?/Bones live for centuries, lasting past cities and heartbeats,/supporting the earth.”

I’ve already used this word once, but I do think that there is a profound anxiety behind many of these poems. What is left of the dead? The things they cared about? The art they created? Nothing but their physical remains? Doll God is grasping for answers to unanswerable questions. But isn’t that what poetry is for?

This post is part of a blog tour for Doll God by Luanne Castle. You can read more about this tour, including links to the other tour stops at Poetic Book Tours.

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4 thoughts on “Doll God by Luanne Castle

  1. What is left of the dead? That’s one of the questions the new Anne Tyler novel raises, too. Sounds like this volume would follow on nicely from reading that novel.

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