Emily Banks

Two poems from Emily Banks’s Doll Fire

followed by a note on the author

Doll Fire

It wasn’t till my brother tried
to reassure her by saying at least
they’ll be together that my sister-in-law called
her mom to cancel the planned incineration
of her dolls. Think of them, tied up in a bag,
their stiff arms awkwardly hugging
each other’s soft torsos, tender
as girls at a sleepover, whispering fears
into the shadows without having to say
don’t tell. Girls telling the stories of their bodies
for the first time to another
half-asleep. Girls struggling to stay up
all night, smuggling sweets
and soda to keep their joy alive
long after they’d brushed their teeth.
Girls nervous as parental footsteps
creak closer in the hall, cheeks puffed up
with inhaled air as doorknob turns,
thinking their saddest thoughts
to quell laughter. Girls
who had once been cherished, each
picked special from a shelf,
opened by fingers trembling
with delight, given a name and a voice,
outgrown now and too worn
to sell or save. The fancier ones
whose eyes close are lucky.
The others stare into cramped darkness,
trying to make out the smooth curve
of a beloved friend’s plastic cheek,
trying not to picture it melting
in the impending inconceivable heat
like a shy blush at the mention
of a crush’s name that never cools,
that rages hotter and hotter
till her skin crackles into pain and nobody
would call her a girl. Her cloth body
would burn more easily, bursting
into ash, leaving only a scrap
of the last dress a girl, already almost
too old for dolls, must have picked out for her.



Credit Where It’s Due

Most of the time, saying grace is just a way
to thank a man for what a woman made.
I mean, go ahead and thank Jesus
for your salvation if you want, but not for standing on his feet
over a hot stove, chopping carrots, stirring herbs, pouring broth
into a pot. Women were on that long before
his storied birth. They say Mary could make a stew
so thick and tender it would seduce God himself.
Don’t they say that? I wasn’t raised to say grace
but I was raised to thank my mother.
I was raised to secret the burnt bits and tougher parts
of vegetables into my mouth before serving a meal.
So if a woman swallows every imperfection
in the world to make your table look
like something Jesus himself would have set if he ever set
a table in his life, thank her. You never know
how it will all spill out. What if one day she opens
her mouth to speak and a life’s worth of scraps
she hid inside herself come pouring down?
In Florida, my aunt asked us to join hands
and hang our heads. I was a teenager
and snuck my eyes open. It made me nervous,
keeping them closed as she extolled
the Lord for his bounty. What was I not
supposed to see? Outside, the Virgin
kneeled in sand, surrounded by the rotting
of small oranges. My aunt knows where to find
the photo of her husband in Vietnam
in bed next to a naked local girl—how old? I’m sure not old
enough to say no to a man who could make her eyes burn
with tear gas then come home and make his wife
cry alone once she’d performed the proper accolades. We thank
Jesus because a good man always looks like a miracle.
We thank Mary for making a good son because we know
damn well he didn’t come from any man.



Doll Fire first appeared in Vox Viola; Credit Where It’s Due first appeared in North Carolina Literary Review

Emily Banks is the author of Mother Water (Lynx House Press, 2020). Her poems have appeared in Plume, Copper Nickel, 32 Poems, The Rumpus, CutBank, Mid-American Review, and other journals. She has also published scholarship in academic journals including Women’s Studies, JMMLA, and ESQ. She holds a BA from UNC-Chapel Hill, an MFA from the University of Maryland, and a Ph.D. from Emory University. A native of Brooklyn, she currently lives in Indianapolis and teaches at Franklin College.