The Fable Of The Matryoshkas

When I met you, you already had
almost everything.

You spoke, and from a halved lime,
a golden-eyed tiger stepped.
From the tiger's mouth, came vermillion birds,
and in the birds' beaks,
silver rings to please you.

If I had told you I loved you then,
I could not have borne the weather of your face--
a clear sky of indifference,
or your smile, constant as any equator.

I knew,
that to win you, I would have to get beneath your heart--
I would have to fold my yellow wings,
with their India ink edges;
become vermiform
and as light as a ghost's fingers on a cotton ball.

There I slept.

After six Novembers and a single Spring,
I opened my eyes--
a solitary traveler when I arrived, I had become four.
You felt the North, South, East and West of me
within yourself, nesting your heart,
as if you were a Russian hat, and I, Medusa's vanity: her hair.

Now, we are together forever,
like bone and limb
the closed and golden gates of your almond eyes.

I am more than content to be your courtesan,
your slave,
your palm leaf, arched over you like Desire's own angel--
but if you dismiss me,
all the matryoshkas of our union will break.

You will see me, at last, as I really am,
a constellation of spilled confectioner's sugar
anointing these shattered nesting dolls
with their linseed smiles,
drug store red lipstick on every jagged edge.

Matryoshka dolls, also known as Russian nesting dolls, or babushka dolls, consist of a series of similarly painted dolls, each one revealing a smaller doll inside it, down to the last and smallest doll, which is typically a baby.

Both images were found on 


  1. I know the dolls, and have a lighter one, but still with the vital images enfolding each other that you open so vividly as your narrator wishes to be seen and owned by one of the outer ones. So we grow on eaach other in real life child to mother and lover to lover. If we dismiss this inner life (to take the voice not speaking), we somehow deserve the breaking of all we value.

  2. Sweet mother of pearl. My cheeks are in severe pain from smiling so hard. ... You know I'll be back.

    P.S. This is your new best poem.

  3. "I could not have borne the weather of your face--
    a clear sky of indifference"

    see~ you write stunning shit like that and ~

    "You felt the North, South, East and West of me"

    how am i supposed to EVER try to write again? you know, there IS such a thing as TOO good and it's name is Shay!

    i do love nesting dolls!

  4. I see it's time for me to just remove my whole head, instead of merely the sprouts of hair.

    A very surreal Lorca-ish feel to this, especially at first, with the array of vivid animal spirits shapeshifting through the first stanzas; then, again the yearning, the depth, of almost too-intense feeling, and the frightening knowledge of looking too closely, too clearly, within to the heart of things. Your metaphor of the dolls is not a particularly subtle one, but is such a beautiful and perfect one here, painted and embellished so intricately that it does subtle and delicate work, holding all the truths that can only be found through removing all the layers nested deep within the illusory boundaries of its shells. The twist at the end is one to wring tears from a rock, Shay. Just stunning work.

  5. The tiger, the vermillion birds,"the weather of your face".....the arching palm leaf...........a wealth of glorious images and tender thoughts. So wonderful!

  6. I think this perfectly encompasses what everyone looking for love feels.

    "I am more than content to be your courtesan,
    your slave,
    your palm leaf, arched over you like Desire's own angel"

    Preach on, sister! Great piece!

  7. I love this part...
    " Now, we are together forever,
    like bone and limb
    the closed and golden gates of your almond eyes.

    I am more than content to be your courtesan,
    your slave, "

    I guess Bosco is your boss...tee..heh

  8. As light as a ghost's fingers on a cotton ball. Beautiful.

  9. There is something to love in every stanza of this poem.
    The first is so telling. What can a humble merely human being offer someone who has everything? It sets up the big question of the entire poem.
    The second: Oh, I love the way you introduce the idea of nesting: the rings within beaks within tiger's mouth within a lime, halved.

    Then the bird imagery, the sleep, those 6 Novembers spent waiting, and on and on until the last wonderful lines.

    How could a reader not feel replete after such a poem?

  10. "After six Novembers and a single Spring"

    That's the line that had me tearing my hair. That entire stanza just slays me.

    And, where did you get that picture of me? Ha ha!

  11. Soooooo...where does one start with this one? I would say this piece is well constructed and yet has enough room to let the reader meander. Your pacing gives me time to explore those vivid images and let the impact of your words break my heart.

    There is so much I like here...I will try to keep my comments brief: The imagery used in your second stanza: tigers from limes, birds from tigers,ring from birds certainly reminded me of nesting dolls in the way each thing emerged fromthe next. I really appreciated that scenic detour.

    I also loved "the smile as constant as any equator"....though I did get tripped up with the "any" equator. According to Wiki earth only has one, but that don't mean your poem is set on earth, right. Far as I know this is a separate planet where springs happen only after six novembers :) I just wanted to call out that phrasing in particular "as any equator" and how it added a little sci-fi other worldedness for me.

    For some reason, the line that really hit it home for me was "but if you dismiss me, all the matryoshkas of our union will break." That line was delivered so deftly and without any grandstanding that I gasped when I read it.

    As a small aside, I found it strange and telling that the narrator had to explain Medusa's vanity in the poem, that it was her hair. I kind of like the ambiguousness just Medusa's vanity, but I like to be left with tiny mysteries like that. I can see why you would draw your reader to specificness of hair.

    Beautiful turn in the last verse, the language turned inside out from flowing and unfurling to a clenched fist of realness to my gut. Well done and viva la

  12. Your image tells such a story in itself. She wear long hair over her face and a furry coat bundled up to her neck. Her head is tilted downward, and her eyes glancing upward. If I saw her in a store, I would immediately think she was being abused. She's beautiful, but she has to hide herself, protect herself, build the layers around her core so that whoever hurts her can't touch the innermost part---the baby Matryoshka. I'd hardly call this a fable. Everything about her is glass. The dolls. The porcelain skin. The fair hair. She is so very breakable. She is afraid of, and yet curious about, the person holding the camera. And then there are the shelves. She is on display, like the dolls. And I see a gap. Some of her pieces have been taken.

    This reminds me of the time I broke the glass display shelves in a knick-knack shop when I was a little girl. From my perspective, I was inside a glass room and I broke it all---every last shard was my fault, and I wished they cut me into pieces rather than leaving me to suffer the humility of being blamed for the mess. Obviously they threw me out of the store. :)

    Now, would you like me to say something about your poem? ;)

  13. P1) I think your first line break says quite a lot: "When I met you, you already had." It makes me think the person whose heart you're trying to get inside was already taken. And then there is that "almost" that shows the weak spot---the hole you're going to burrow into, making your parasitic home without it being known by your host(ess).

    P2) The first two words parallel scripture to some degree (God spoke, and it was done), already setting her up as a goddess. So let's try to break down your symbolism. A halved lime---something cut open, broken into pieces, exposed, sour/bitter, jealous, yet desirable in the right mixtures.

    Golden eyes are obviously magical/supernatural---they are both dangerous and innocent, scary and sweet. Like tigers. We're so drawn to their majesty and strength, but they can (and will) rip us to shreds if we get too close. That's why so many of them are caged. Then there's the word "stepped," which because of your sentence construction, makes me think of "stepped out" (strayed; traveled outside the lime, the limits, the boundaries of her earth---the center of the lime being the later-mentioned equator).

    [Like I said, this poem is begging me to write a paper about it.]

    Maybe "vermillion" just means red. Or maybe it's the name of a location, or even a comic book fantasy world.

    Out of the mouth, the heart speaks. So I think the redbirds (and all that the color red represents, like fire, passion, creativity) fly out of her heart and through her "mouth" when she speaks.

    Yet there's this disconnection between the girl and the lime. So is she the lime, or are you the lime? Is she disconnecting from herself, or do you turn into this magical creature upon hearing her very voice? I could argue either interpretation.

    Onto the silver rings carried in the mouths of vermillion birds: "Silver is a symbol for strength because this metal withstands abuse, weathering, and even heat. Nevertheless, it can still be molded into desired forms." So the rings are given to her. Are they to represent her? Or are they to represent you? I could argue either.

    Going back to the eyes, check these out (just for fun):

    Okay, so I've done two paragraphs. Do you want me to keep going or give it a rest? :)

  14. There's a really good chance I'll like any poem that has the phrase "become vermiform," not going to lie.

    There's a lot here to like, though. The pacing and rhythm of the phrasing gives the whole poem a kind of blurred edge. Not quite soft, more incantatory. Works very well with the imagery. I heart it.

  15. My favorites are Stanzas 4, 7, 6, 8, and 3 (in that order). And also this: "You will see me, at last, as I really am,
    a constellation of spilled confectioner's sugar"

    The lime explosion is also fantastic, but it has been mentioned already by most of the others.

    Incredible writing. There just aren't words to express adequate appreciation for what you give us in your poems.

  16. Wow. Phenomenal writing Shay. The imagery crawls life-like from the page. Just stunning.


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