there was

and once there was not

a little girl named


V a s s i l i s s a

he was the sweetest thing,
a really
good girl.

Her mother dressed her in the perfect
with a black skirt and a white apron,
a white blouse and a red vest
all embroidered
and painstakingly

n her feet,
Vasalisa wore little red boots.

On her head:

a scarf
decorated with colorful patterns
that had been passed
(with viral ferocity)

from generation
to generation

was tied
beneath her chin,

her long braids twisting
like DNA down her back.

Her mother loved her very much,
doted on her
wished she might stay this
sweet and doll-like forever.

Then one day Vasalisa’s mother
found a lump.
or some irregular bleeding
or something else so nasty
that it stopped her in her tracks.

The mother took to her bed,
to her HMO hospital room,
to her hospice.

The mother curled up
on a cot in the corner of a shelter
to die

and called Vasalisa to her side.

From under the blankets she pulled a little doll
that looked exactly like Vasalisa:

same black skirt, white apron
same blouse, same vest
same tiny red boots.

same scarf of many colors.

titch by stitch her mother had made
this doll
this gift
for her daughter
by hand.

The mother stroked her daughter’s braids
and handed her the doll.

At first, the doll gave Vasalisa the creeps.

What was her mother trying to do?
giving her
this mini self
a silly finger puppet?

And the doll was so soft
such a squishy-thing
with threads all dangling
(so unprofessional!)

Why not something new
that smelled of plastic,
something shrink-wrapped,
something useful?

Vasalisa was pissed.

She wanted to fling the doll



the wall.

ut the mother spoke softly
to the girl and said
“keep this doll with you Vasalisa.”

“All you need to do is
feed her a little bit
now and then

and listen to her.

She will help you know
what to do
and which way to go
after I am gone.”

I love you,”
whispered the dying mother.

Vasalisa sighed
and accepted her mother’s blessing,
and slipped the little doll
into the pocket of her apron.

When her mother died
Vasalisa cried so long
and so hard

that she...

that she
would go to sleep crying
and wake up crying
and spent most of the time
sitting in the dirt

behind the apartment building

under the jungle gym

beneath the tree near her mother’s grave.

Wait a minute...
Where is the father?


He is a wreck!

the empty bottles,
like bones,
rattling together
in the recycling bin
in the garage.

(that poor girl!)

Vasalisa reached down
into her pocket
and felt the doll

(the little memo from mom)

and somehow she knew
she was going to