The Russian Doll
By Jane Shore
after Elder Olson
Six inches tall, the Russian doll
stands like a wooden bowling pin.
On her painted head her red babushka
melts into her shawl and scarlet
peasant dress, and spreading over that,
the creamy lacquer of her apron.
A hairline crack fractures the equator
of her copious belly,
that when twisted and pulled apart,
reveals a second doll inside her,
exactly alike, but smaller,
with a blue babushka and matching dress
with an identical crack circling her middle.
Did Faberge fashion a doll like her
for the Czar's daughter? Oh, hers would be
more elaborate, of course, and not a toy —
emerald eyes, twenty-four carat hair —
a cousin to mine, but with filigreed petticoats
like a chanterelle's gills blown inside-out.
An almost invisible faultline
would undermine her waist,
and a platinum button would spring her body open.
Now I have two dolls:
a mother and a daughter.
Inside the daughter, a third doll is waiting.
She has exactly the same face,
the same function,
the same fault she can't seem to correct.
Within her solitary shell, that echo chamber
where her duplicate selves are breathing,
she can't be sure
whose heart is beating, whose ears
are hearing her own heart beat.
Each doll breaks
into a northern and a southern hemisphere.
I line them up in descending order,
careful to match each bottom half
with the proper head, each head
eye level with the womb — a clean split,
for once, between the body and the mind.
A fourth doll's head
peeks over the rim of the third doll's waist,
an egg-cup in which her descendents
grow in concentric circles.
Until last, at last, the two littlest dolls,
too unstable to stand upright,
are cradled in her cavity, as if waiting to be born.
Like two dried beans, they rattle inside her;
twin faces painted in cruder detail,
bearing the family resemblance
and the same, unmistakeable design.
The line of succession stops here.
You can pluck them from her belly
like a surgeon performing a caesarian,
thus making the choice between fullness
and emptiness; the way the planet itself
is rooted in repetitions, formal reductions,
the whole and its fractions,
subtractions and additions.
Great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, daughter —
generations of women emptying themselves
like the most primitive one-celled animals,
each reproducing, apparently, without a mate.
You thought the first, the largest, doll
contained nothing but herself,
but you were wrong.
You assumed she was a young woman
because you could not read her face.
Is she the oldest in this genealogy —
holding within her hollow each daughter's
daughter? Or, is she the youngest —
carrying the embryo of the old woman
she will become?
Is she an onion
all the way through?
a metaphor for memory shedding
she remembers all the way back
To when her body
broke open for the first time,
to the child of twelve who fits inside her still —
who has yet to discover that self,
always hidden, who grows and shrinks,
who multiplies and divides.
Icccckkkkkk. Yeah, I know you're sick of hearing me complain. Going to the doctor Wednesday to make sure it's not bronchitis. My chest rattles when I exhale and feels like someone is stabbing at the base of my throat when I cough, and I still have a fever, which makes me think something is infected even if it started as the flu. In other words, I have nothing to report on Tuesday except that election coverage gave me a bigger headache than coughing (they're going to find a way to hand the election to John Effing McCain, screw them all), and I don't dare comment on the Open Source Boob thing because my immediate reaction was not anything philosophical or outraged but more along the lines of, "Things like this are why the mass media can keep suggesting that people who go to sci-fi and computer conventions have no lives." Which is insensitive and not a proper feminist commentary at all, but it's all my brain could manage. Here, have some flowers from the US Botanic Gardens.
So Boston Legal did "Alan and Denny Go To The Supreme Court," which was utter crack yet nonetheless more enjoyable than most actual Supreme Court transcripts I have ever read. I forgive David E. Kelley for producing an episode in which his Mary Sue said everything Kelley has ever wanted to say to Scalia, Alito, Roberts, Thomas and Kennedy even though he's perpetuating a ridiculous stereotype of big money prostitution in America (run by feminist lawyers and not mobsters, populated by beautiful, clean, affectionate, together women who've simply made a lifestyle choice, etc.)
Carl summons Alan to take on the case of a black man in Louisiana convicted of raping an 8-year-old and facing the death penalty, which Alan will appeal before the Supreme Court in two days. The man's name is Lennie (I bet we're supposed to think of Lennie in that staggering example of misogynistic literature, Of Mice and Men, though I bet we're not supposed to think of it as a staggering example of misogynistic literature but rather the poor guy who dies unfairly for a crime he was too disabled to realize he was committing). This Lennie wants Alan to make sure to tell the court that he did not do it and he does not want to die, even though Alan is ordered to stick to the constitutional issue of whether a man who has not been found legally disabled can be executed for a crime other than murder. Denny, who has never argued a case before the Supreme Court, begs to be put on the case with Alan and Alan obliges, telling Carl to come along if Carl thinks someone needs to keep an eye on Denny's pants.
Denny sings in a jazz club the night before the case but Alan is a nervous wreck, knowing a man's life hangs in the balance. Denny promises to flirt with Ginsburg, which he does, and asks Alan to get Thomas to speak as well as to kick ass: "It's our time in the great hall in front of the highest court in the country! Be Alan Shore for all you're worth!" When the justices enter, Denny hugs Alan and tells him he loves him. Alan points out that his client is one of only two out of over 3000 people on death row not convicted of murder and points out Louisiana's unfair justice system -- black men more likely to die than white men particularly for rape, 180 men prosecuted for child rape with only Lennie facing the death penalty, and no other US state allows execution of first-time offenders. Moreover, the death penalty makes it more likely that children won't report crimes because no child wants to be responsible for an execution.
Alito and Roberts try to argue the facts on record, but Alan asks if they read the entire record, which shows no DNA evidence. Scalia announces that actual innocence is not something Alan gets to argue, but Alan scoffs at this -- "You're going to kill someone and his actual innocence is irrelevant?" When Roberts tells him off, Alan accuses them of being liars, claiming they never thought about how they would rule on abortion when they were being confirmed, sitting on cases in which they had financial and personal interests. "Seems to me the Supreme Court of the United States should be made of sterner stuff." When Alan demands that Thomas put down his magazine, Thomas objects and Denny punches his fist in the air.
Told to leave his politics aside, Alan asks the justices to do the same, since they were all picked by presidents with ideological agendas. He asks how many executions they have witnessed and describes the five he saw, then says that Lennie has the mind of a child and is hardly the person to make an example of in Louisiana. Moreover, Lennie asked him to tell them that he didn't commit the crime. Lennie's original lawyer, who brought Alan onto the case, says that he has renewed her faith in equal justice under the law. Carl says, for the record, that though some lawyers would have found Alan's little performance heroic, it is not the policy of Crane, Poole and Schmidt to attack or dismiss the Supreme Court. Then a clearly admiring Carl admonishes Alan to behave better the next time he's before the high court, "though some might think you really are something. Got it?"
Meanwhile, Jerry has lost his cherry and brags to everyone about how wonderful it was, but when Lorraine catches sight of his beloved Dana, she tells Katie that she didn't entirely give up the brothel business and Dana is one of her call girls. They agree that Jerry must be told, though Lorraine adds that if Dana told Jerry that she loves him, she probably means it, as she is honest and honorable. Okay, give me a few "yeah right" moments here...like Lorraine would ever tell anyone at the firm she was back to her old job, especially a blabbermouth like Jerry, and like gorgeous Dana would have risked a sexual harassment lawsuit with such a tidbit that could have come to light! I wish David E. Kelley would stick to fantasy justice rather than fantasy prostitution. Sweet Katie doesn't want Jerry to return to his doll-dating ways and tells him love is worth a second chance, but Jerry can't think of anything more desperate than dating a call girl.
On the balcony, Denny says that Alan got Scalia defensive and Alito hadn't been so worked up since Princeton started admitting blacks and girls. Denny also admires Alan for marching into the Supreme Court and fighting for a principle he believes in. "How many people have such a chance and actually seize it? Wow!" Plus Denny is still impressed that Alan got Thomas to talk, and wants to know if Alan saw Ginsberg making eyes at him. Though he still favors capital punishment, Denny adds that he wants mercy to be part of his legacy and he hopes they don't kill that kid. And though they have been to the Supreme Court, he and Alan are not done. "Not even close," Alan agrees. They'll prove it next week when they move to Wednesdays.