I am a (very) grown woman. I own several puppets — and zero shame.
You can attribute my puppet-owning to the four years I spent studying theatre in college or the nine I spent making it in Chicago. When I was a straight-up stage actress there was a dearth of puppets in my life and I didn’t even realize what a bummer that was. When I made the exhilarating break to be a performer rather than an actor — the difference between “firefly” and “fire” — the number of puppets in my life grew exponentially and I was a happier artist. It wasn’t that I was using puppets right away, it’s that I saw them more in the art I was exposing myself to; intricate, enormous, wild, complex, frightening, and fascinating puppetry seemed to be everywhere in Chicago. When I became a Neo-Futurist, the aesthetic wormed it’s way into my work — or maybe I just came home to the first version of me I remember, maybe I found my inner Sesame Street. I put googly eyes on mittens and stuck them on sticks and did a little play called “Mitten Time.” I put a bird on a wire. I made talking boxes that flew up into the grid on a string. I strung my retired brassieres on dowel rods and sang them to their death in a little play called “Bras I Have Known.” Searching my laptop tonight, I found the lyrics to “Bras I Have Known.” Why not put them down? It’s a simple cut-and-paste and then I’ll (quickly) tell you about Belli.
This was sung (in chorus) to the tune of “Baa-Baa Black Sheep” as the actual brassieres from my life were strung up on sticks and bobbed around onstage. Shocking? Nope. Great fun.
Bra bra old bra
Opposite of young
Lace torn, cups stretched
Purple ones, gold ones
Yellow, white, and pink
Cotton, lycra, spandex,
Time to say goodbye, I think
A fine job you’ve done here
To lift and separate
Rest dear, rest dear,
The garbage is your fate
Each bra before you
Tells a story of its own
That one was there the night
Sin came free on loan
This one was present
When Jeremiah died
That one I never wore
But trust me, I tried
The gold one was funny
Never looked quite right
But I wore it frequently
Cause I thought one day it might
I couldn’t toss these out without
Offering them some art
Sure, they’re just old bras but
They literally crossed my heart.
Thus ends the lesson
And your straps on my body
Time to go pick up a new
A month or so ago, I popped into the toy shop on 9th Street, about a block from where we turn in our laundry. The shop is called Dinosaur Hill, and if I wanted to have a baby before I walked past the windows of Dinosaur Hill Toystore, boy, do I want one now. Little painted wooden figurines, toy trains, princess costumes. They’ve got everything. They carry many hand puppets, too: I learned this when I went inside, a (very) grown woman with no child who was determined to buy a toy anyway.
I spied a kitten puppet. She was so cute. A little small for my hand, maybe, but soft and so realistic, with wide eyes and soft paws. I surprised Yuri with it when he came home that night. We sat on the couch and I whispered, “I have a surprise for you.”
“Oh?” he said, smiling. “What is your surprise?”
The little cat had been on my hand the whole time and I pinged it up and waved a paw by moving my pinky finger inside the puppet. Yuri laughed, delighted.
“Hello! Oh, my! And what’s your name, little kitten?”
I hadn’t decided. Yuri said her name should be “Belly” but when he said it, he didn’t think how “belly” is a tough word for me to process as cute, what with my own belly being such a battleground. Funny thing is that I didn’t for a moment think he meant “belly” with a “y.” I figured he was being brilliant and going for something Italian, so in my mind, I instantly saw “Belli” as the kitten’s name. And so it was that the little cat puppet was named Belli and she has brought us great joy since that day.