Click here to listen
to Denise& Dustin's Barbie
interview on The Hive.
The Barbie issue is discussed in the Best American Poetry blog. Read here.
Barbie Gets Divorced*
Let’s face it: at fifty
I no longer feel twenty
though you’d never guess
to look at me. Ah!
The wonders of polystyrene.
But in the night, I turn
slick as glass, hot flashes
almost melting my plastic bed.
Just as Ken finished
his manly stuff, fiddling
with the A/C, adjusting the fan,
I’d be freezing, teeth chattering so hard
my molded smile could crack,
pink skin turned icy blue.
Frustrated, Ken slept on the couch
and pretty soon Skipper
looked better and better
and Ken moved out.
“Fifty years!” I shouted at him,
“I supported you for fifty years!”
Everyone knows that Ken never held
a job, it was always me—
from fashion model to nurse
to lawyer to CEO. Everything
was mine. Did you ever see
Ken’s camper or Ken’s sports car?
Of course not! All Ken had
was his spiffy clothes with the Velcro crotch.
(He was more a Johnny-come-quickly
than anything else.)
But did he care? Did he appreciate?
No! Soon as things got rough
he left. It wasn’t my fault my fist
would wind up in his eye, or my toes
stuck behind his ear; my body was on fire!
I was sticky, going soft around the edges.
Nothing I could do! The rat, squeamish
as he was, bailed, then sued me for half of it all.
Talk about a bitter pill—what’s left for me?
Even GI Joe is younger than me, and last time
I saw him, he was missing a leg. “War’s hell” he said.
Well, all that’s water down the drain
as I always say. I’m not one to pout.
I’ll just drive this spiffy coupe
over to headquarters and pour me another guy!
They may have retired the mold that made me,
but brother, you’re a dime a dozen.
Look out, boys, here I come!
*This poem was originally published in International Literary Quarterly (December 2010).
Barbra Nightingale’s (she/her) 10th book of poetry is Spells & Other Ways of Flying (Kelsay Books, 2021). She has seven chapbooks and two other full volumes of poetry with small presses. Over 200 of her poems have appeared in National and International Journals and Anthologies. She is an Associate Editor with the South Florida Poetry Journal, a retired professor, and lives in Hollywood, Florida, with her two and four-legged menagerie.
Ken Blew Me
silently, behind the concession stand
on the home side of Cardinal Field.
Barbie watched us, which was not
the first time this happened to me.
I say happened to because the dream
began when Ken asked and I unzipped
and Barbie offered to be the lookout
for any teachers or parents, cloaked
nuns on a late night stroll, my dad
yelling Keep it straight when I daydreamed
on the tractor, drifting across the field.
Ken worked fast, his hands kneading
my ass and perineum, tugging my balls
like this wasn’t his first time on payroll
for the devil. Barbie said That’s his fave
part when I grunted and he gulped.
She put her hair up into a side pony.
Now, can we party? I woke, my husband
Adam snoring beside me, then fell
into Barbie’s pink convertible zooming
to Skipper’s rental at the lake, Ken
and Adam making out in the backseat,
Barbie saying Look, you know guys
do what they want and we shouldn’t
waste time worrying about it. I slid
my arms around Adam, who curled
into my body and continued snoring
unaware of the party, Ken’s anaconda
jaw, the convertible chalkboarding
the curve as Barbie and I laughed, heads
back, mouths to the moon, our blond
ponytail tongues whipping in the wind.
Ben Kline (he/him) lives in Cincinnati, Ohio. Author of the chapbooks SAGITTARIUS A* and DEAD UNCLES, Ben was the 2021 recipient of Patricia Goedicke Prize in Poetry. His work is forthcoming or can be found in POETRY, Rejection Letters, Southeast Review, THRUSH, CutBank, fourteen poems, Hobart and many other publications
Red Riding Hood Barbie, A Triptych
1. Walk Through The Woods
Barbie knows it’s all about the outfit:
fishnet socks, kitten heels, red bows
at the knees, scarlet hood, woven basket.
She saunters through the forest like she owns it.
Hood up or hood down? she wonders out loud through rows
of pines—knowing it’s all about the outfit.
He’s focused on the flesh, of course. He smells it—
the nasty wolf—and salivating, starts to follow
eye level to her knees, the dangling basket.
He stands and she startles. He wants meat
bad, and he’s dressed to kill: yellow boots, bow
tie…Mattel knows it’s all about the outfit.
My dear, he growls, his smile all fang and spit,
Why traipsing through the woods and all alone?
She stops, hood flung back, woven basket
clutched, and bats her eyes, I’m off to visit
grandma. I mustn’t talk to strangers though,
and tosses her head, all about the outfit:
slim knees, scarlet hood, woven basket.
2. Grandma’s House
Woven basket, slim knees, scarlet hood,
the stranger gone, she skips along the path.
His darker shadow slips through the wood.
What a creep, she thinks, all hairy and brood-
ing. Nothing like my Ken. She pictures him: slim girth,
tall boots, strong jaw, tan cape and woolen hood….
Blank eyes go blanker. Together we look so good!
She stops to gather flowers for grandma’s hearth.
That darker shadow slipping from the wood
has other plans for grandma. Hungry for blood,
he smacks his lips together then opens his mouth
so wide her old knees buckle. When scarlet hood
arrives, Grandma’s inside him in the bed.
Barbie is startled, Grandma looks like death—
its dark shadow encroaching from the wood.
Grandma, what big eyes you have, she said,
the story goes, but Barbie was speechless in truth:
dropped basket, slim knees shaking, scarlet hood
askew, facing this shadow from the wood.
3. Party Time
Facing the shadow, startled by what she sees,
Barbie tries to think of something fun:
Plum lipstick, Ken’s cute smile, slumber parties.
Dark and hairy arms beneath the sheets.
Grandma croaks, Come lie beside me little one.
A shadow. She tries not to notice, but sees
as grandma smiles, the sharp blades of her teeth.
(So many)! Barbie gasps and swoons and then she’s gone.
No lips, no hood, no smile, no thought of parties.
The wolf inhales her, then promptly falls asleep
and starts to snore so loudly it draws a huntsman
wandering past who’s startled by what he sees:
a bonneted wolf passed out on floral sheets,
his stomach huge. With one ax-stroke, it’s done:
Grandma and Barbie stand free as a party
with no parents, the wolf split from neck to feet.
Grandma moves to put the kettle on.
The huntsman bows—it's Ken!—startled Barbie sees.
His kiss leaves her dreaming of wedding parties.
Beth Gylys (she/her) is an award-winning poet and professor of creative writing at Georgia State University. Her 4th collection of poetry, Body Braille, was recently released by Iris Press. Her other books include Sky Blue Enough to Drink, Spot in the Dark, and Bodies that Hum; she has also published two chapbooks Matchbook and Balloon Heart.
One day curiosity finally took hold
of a little boy who held his breath
to sneak inside his sister’s room
and steal her Ken away
to some private place,
where undisturbed from prying eyes
he’d search for answers to an unspoken question.
What cunning linguist named him Ken,
from the Middle English to make known,
or the west Frisian to know or feel,
or most ironic, the obsolete Scottish to catch sight of.
There was nothing beneath Ken’s fashion togs
but Mattel’s cost cutting strategy:
less plastic to extrude meant less to form
much less to amplify inside the mind of a
curious boy confounded by that false slab
with its smooth smooth surface of disappointment.
But left to one’s imagination
curiosity will only grow about other forms
and the potential shapes of other packages.
Now they come bundled in thrift stores,
four or five naked “boy” dolls in a clear bag,
Ken squeezed together with a wrestler,
a buff soldier, warrior, or superhero
all freed of their form-fitting costumes,
tan, brown, and pink flesh together
pressed in perpetual ghost frottage
like an afterlife of delight for every
once curious boy now grown old.
Dan Vera (he/him) is a first-gen, borderlands born Queer-Tejano Latinx writer, editor, and literary historian of Cuban/Caribbean ancestry. Awarded the Oscar Wilde Award for Poetry and the Letras Latinas/Red Hen Poetry Prize, he co-edited Imaniman: Poets Writing In The Anzaldúan Borderlands and authored two books of poetry. He’s been featured by the Poetry Foundation, the NEA and in academic curricula, various journals and anthologies. He lives in Washington DC with his beloved Pete and their blessed dog Blossom.
we must break, or the speaker fights herself about her smallness
“I learned young to be the smallest target.” –torrin a. greathouse
my hips root like wild hogs
against my dress i buckle
a quiet belt around them—this holding back,
a harness meant to tether me
to the rash-mashed belly of the world
i was raised in the way of field mice, low
nose scrounging against
any sound shuffled up
in the mud, & i felt safest
rising like smoke through drawn rooms—
i hope to make in me a door
that only i can open there is nothing
small about me
but i was convinced i had to be smaller
so chiseled all day at my wrists with a house key
till the welts inflamed, a field of poppies
i’ve always been afraid,
have always bucked
against my unkempt tongue,
tired, fought myself mostly
(stop sobbing. stop sopping globules of snot
with your sweatshirt pocket. go shower.
shit. brush your teeth—for the love-of-your-god
the landscape of your childhood:
its thousand red umbrellas—
Or Beyond Pink Barbie™,
that neon god w/ a hot guitar, fuchsia dress
vinyl-slick against the pink diamond
her bent arm made against her waist
—a rock bop—
till you popped her head from her too-tan neck
—Frankenstein-eqsue, that parental urge to dismantle
what you say is yours)
& how many nights did i cradle that Barbie, coddling
her crimped bangs with drool? & how purposeful
my adolescent fingers wiping play’s scuff
for her plum-perfect smile—
that I might one day delight in finding
Beyond Pink Barbie ™’s head fit snug
on my nightlight, the tapered bulb
flexing her jaw into gossamer light—
(gruesome, but you loved how she cast
your whole room peach hues
& went to sleep mesmerized by her eyes
was it reckless
if i didn’t know
fire needs only one small fumbling
(when you smelled smoke, woke to watch it shaking
its tresses through the late hour, Beyond Pink Barbie™
a torched grin on the wall, heat-gnarled,
eyes bleached with fluorescent fever)
and my parents—
still unaware of this promised flame
coaxing in their kids’ room) i learned
to swallow fear like a horse pill,
to hide evidence, (to shun dolls) to pray
smoke would ghost by morning (to tithe
obedience) to tuck my singed finger
behind another when I grabbed a glass
to drink, to sleep in the dark
that i would rather sleep in the dark
than admit the fear pooling out my edges,
spilling rivulets, faucets from my ears
in arcs, wet-blaring its hydrant
urgency across the carpets
(stop sobbing. stop sopping—)
my family left me
a generation of breaking
so I must break (everything they’ve given us)
Bubble Cut Barbie
Little Lazarus, I lifted her,
from her cellophane box—kissed her dark
pink lips, side-glancing eyes, and Titian hair,
bubble cut like Sister’s and Mother’s. At the parlour,
when they sat under silver domes, I haunted the corners,
stripped Barbie’s striped suit. She smiled,
asked me to touch her nippleless breasts, her unfolded vulva.
I said Yes. Yes. She smiled harder and harder.
As Mother and Sister, bee hives polished, stood
and smoothed their pencil skirts,
I whispered in an unhollowed ear: I’ll never be real.
I was awed by the power of being seen. Only seen—
no babies to break me, nothing to enter me, no bleeding,
no dying. I’d never do anything.
Dion O'Reilly (she/her) grew up on a farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Her debut book, Ghost Dogs, was published in February 2020 by Terrapin Books. Her work appears in American Journal of Poetry, Cincinnati Review, Narrative, The New Ohio Review, The Massachusetts Review, New Letters, and other literary journals and anthologies. She is a member of The Hive Poetry Collective, which produces podcasts, radio shows, and events. She teaches workshops with poets from all over the United States and Canada.
Barbie could be anything
as long as she had the right
outfit: Space Shuttle astronaut.
Jazzercise instructor. A hanger
for Bob Mackie’s sequins and faux
fur. A metaphor for perfume. In red
velvet and tulle, another metaphor,
this time for love. Whatever
her job, there was one constant
expectation: Ken had to be there,
a hunk hulking in muscled plastic
as a husband at her side. Barbie had no
friends, ghosted Midge the first time
she saw the nippleless expanse
of Ken’s tanned chest. And at a certain
point in every game, my own friend
peered around for any mothers
who may be watching before
scissoring Barbie’s legs apart
and offering them to Ken,
banging them together as if
that was what every sitcom refused
to show us behind the shut doors,
the fade-to-black cuts, the exit credits,
what made every mother hold a hand
over their children’s eyes so that they saw
only darkness, not at whatever made
those moans onscreen. Oh God, oh God. Yes,
I did the same with my own Barbies,
following my friend’s lead. I didn’t
understand. And sometimes I’d look
to see if I could find the secret
in the inscrutable zeroes between Ken
and Barbie’s legs. Oh God. Oh God.
Nothing. Barbie taught us. We could be
anything that lay between her limits:
wife, mother. But what, I wondered,
if I didn’t want that, the thick muscled
bulk of a Ken all thunder against me?
What if I didn’t want to know, after all,
what happened behind that door, inside
that sitcom’s dark? You’re just not any good
at being a girl, my friend would say, her Barbie
naked in one hand, Ken in the other,
oh God, I didn’t know how to tell her
to stop. I didn’t know how to say it,
that I already knew what I could not want.
Emma Bolden (she/her) is the author of House Is an Enigma (Southeast Missouri State University Press), medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press), and Maleficae (GenPop Books). The recipient of an NEA Fellowship, her work has appeared in such journals as the Mississippi Review, The Rumpus, StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, New Madrid, Shenandoah, and others. She currently serves as Associate Editor-in-Chief for Tupelo Quarterly and an Editor of Screen Door Review. Her memoir, The Tiger and the Cage, is forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in 2022.
When a boy rips off the head
of a Barbie, a man,
on the other side of the earth
gets haunted by its most hidden
When the young girl rolls in the Glock,
after using her tongue as a weapon,
as bullet or word, it is violence she
augurs, trigger cocked
in the roof of her mouth
Transexual Barbie gets plastic surgery*
Barbie wakes up saying “I love myself”
records a video half pornstar
half Daddy issues
with the indispensable caption
“T-lovers of the world, unite.”
At her appointment with the plastic surgeon
“I have no commitment to nature”
after double airbags 12 oz. each
come at least some general anesthesia
a trip to Thailand
and a cyborg pussy
in a tie dye bikini size XS.
*By Gal Freire/ English translations by Miriam Adelman
Gal Freire (she/her) is a Brazilian dancer and poet. She understands her own trans woman's body as a creation that is constituted through cyborg-pharmacological technology and which, through movement, reveals and produces friction between the poles of the binaries of the natural/artificial, female/ male, organic /synthetic. In these poems, the Barbie doll is her point of departure, to which she adds her own take on a vernacular that commonly refers to trans women as “dolls."
SoFlo Barbie Rescue
The worst part about living in South Florida isn’t elder
abuse or vaccine hesitancy, the humidity, or hurricanes.
It’s all the orphaned Barbies, in various stages of undress
and distress, piled like junkyard cars at American Thrift,
Goodwill and Hadassah Resale. Knotted, discolored, and
hacked hair, ink-stained skin and Sharpied pubic region,
missing a limb, with a double mastectomy. At least
the queens who shop at Out of the Closet on Wilton Drive
know how to make Barbie feel loved and valued again.
Take her home to mid-century architecture and decor.
Bathe her in Calgon, shampoo her damaged locks with
Kerastase Discipline Bain Fluidealiste, massage coconut
oil into her cracking scalp. Apply Lancome Hydra Zen
to her visage. Christian Louboutin Silky Satin Lip Colour
to make her perpetual smirk even more desirable, kissable.
Nothing but Chanel Le Vernis tints her finger and toenails.
A diminutive, white gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual Day-Date 36
with diamond-paved dial, diamond-set bezel and a diamond-set
President bracelet wrapped around her slender, tapered wrist.
Tiffany diamond studs for her ears with matching diamond
and platinum pendant for her throat. Dressed to the nines;
Stuart Weitzman Cinderella slippers adorn her perfectly
pedicured and arched feet. Only vintage Valentino or Karl
Lagerfeld will do when it comes to her gowns, to be worn on
the red carpet at galas or picking up a few nibblies at Sprouts.
Gregg Shapiro (he/him) is the author of eight books including the poetry collection Fear of Muses (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). Recent/forthcoming lit-mag publications include The Penn Review, Exquisite Pandemic, RFD, Gargoyle, Limp Wrist, Mollyhouse, Impossible Archetype, Red Fern Review, Instant Noodles, Dissonance Magazine, and POETiCA REViEW. An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.
While all the other girls unwrapped
the orange and yellow dream house
with the slanted roof, I was trying to hide
the shellacked mahogany bedroom set
that my grandfather made for my Barbies.
I knew what Amy and Lisa would say
about the stubby nightstands and the brown
twin bed that didn’t have a mattress.
I can almost smell the varnish he used
on the furniture—all wood except aluminum
foil for the mirror and the plastic lamps.
He was proudest of those shades—lids
from empty Scope bottles. And the bases—
spools of thread he painted gold
while my grandmother made sauce in the kitchen.
I longed for Barbie’s hot pink bed and armoire
that the other girls had for their blonde dolls,
as American as they were. I set up Angelo’s
furniture on a small gray towel beside the plastic
dream house from my father. The dolls looked
so confused about what to do. What to wear,
how to brush their hair in a mirror
that didn’t reflect their faces. Where
to put their bodies. How to lie down to sleep.
Jennifer Franklin’s (she/her) most recent collection is No Small Gift (Four Way Books, 2018). Her third book, If Some God Shakes Your House, will be published by Four Way Books in 2023. Her work has appeared in American Poetry Review, Bennington Review, Boston Review, Gettysburg Review, JAMA, The Nation, Paris Review, “poem-a-day” on poets.org, Prairie Schooner, and Rhino. She teaches manuscript revision at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she is Program Director. She lives in NYC.
I awaken shorn, denuded, de-sexed. Pretty spicy-
looking otherwise & way too young
for post-menopausal symptoms. Throwing on
my pink polka-dot bikini, I dance out of my Barbie
Dream House and jump my Barbie Glam convertible & jet
to the beach to play volleyball with Skipper, Midge, and Stacie,
no thought of my withered genitals, saggy & sad with age
and overexertion because surprise! They’re gone! What a relief.
Oh, how once everything flowed. Whole babies emerged
from this parched ground. Was I ever able to rock
and sway with pleasure, every day a pulsing beat
of where can I use this thing? Let me at ‘em!
So juicy, dogs probably followed me around the block,
a delicious fire burning in me all over. Little by little, the oil
well ran dry, scraping, cinching, crumbling, as if someone
planted a Due to Dust Bowl, Closed for Business
sign south of my bellybutton & moved on to California
in a Model T. All is well now. Barbie’s violent pink accessory
kits don’t include shiny packets of Liquid Beads, VMagic, Astroglide,
Vag-o-Fem, hormone cream, or selective estrogen receptors.
No magenta dildo or blush-pink vibrator in the Glam convertible’s
glove compartment. Not one damn orifice in her at all, Barbie
ready for anything, no pain, no itch, no clawing desire to rip
out every female part from stem to stern and hand over the wrecked
package to the doctor & point to the smooth, smile-less
Barbie doll option posted on the office wall, saying That one, please.
Jessica Barksdale Inclán's (she/her) fifteenth novel,The Play's the Thing, was published by TouchPoint Press in May 2021. Her other novels include the award-winning The Burning Hour as well as contemporary fiction Her Daughter's Eyes, The Matter of Grace, and When You Believe. Finishing Line Press published her debut poetry collection When We Almost Drowned (2019). Her second poetry collection, Grim Honey, was published by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions in April 2021. Jessica lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband.
Starr had me from the box: terrific
teen whose tops with everyone. Lacking
Mattel’s trademark blue eyes
and Barbie’s ambition to become
astronaut, doctor, teacher, Starr
was cool just because she said so.
In her red satin jacket, emblazoned
with S, she made me wonder what else
she could stand for. With silver short
shorts, a nod to Mork, she came
accessorized with her own phone,
a promise she could talk for hours.
When freed from her twist ties,
Starr showed her teeth, told me more:
we’d take over the townhouse,
teach those dolls a thing or two.
Created as Barbie backstory, Starr
wanted to burn it all, become her own
version of Homecoming Queen.
She confessed she hated her assigned
boyfriend, Shaun, with his painted on
blonde and copycat S jacket, told me
to leave him on the shelf, that even
his packaging was a lie because
it claimed He’s got it all. As if, Starr said,
wasting no time intertwining with 6 Million
Dollar Man because she dug his bionic eye.
Tuesday Taylor, the imposter, so wannabe,
angled to impress Starr first, rotating
her twistable scalp from blonde look at me
I’m Sandra Dee to raven-tressed Cher
who needed men like dessert. Sun Lovin’ Malibu
tried her immobile hand too, showing off
her sticker tattoos after burning away
the day in the windowsill. Even Kissing
Barbie got in on it, following Starr around
with her signature pucker sound.
They all envied Starr’s action poses,
her elongated neck, bendable elbows,
knees, realistic hip action, the way her body
broke from Barbie’s frozen poses. But after
the townhouse elevator jammed, an argument
escalated over who tangled Hawaiian Barbie’s
grass skirt, after none of Barbie’s heels fit
her wide feet, Starr pulled out another accessory,
her mic, told me we were meant to be rock stars.
Prove it, I said. So we stole off to the basement,
watched the forbidden Rock ‘n’ Roll High School
and became our own Riff
Randell, whispering about Joey Ramone
and writing songs we’d have to sneak to guys,
swooning over silver-studded belts and chains
hanging from jeans, dreaming of deep black
bangs with real hair obscuring the drummer’s
foxy eyes. And the way she sang I want you
around as we tore down the cardboard high school
we built, creating fire with burnt orange
crayons, blackening smoke swirls over doors,
gloriously shredding it all and telling no one.
Starr, who sounded like my galaxy, strummed
for big blaze, played me quietly in the backseat,
revealed more embers that would burn out
my girlhood, reminded me there would be breasts
and Tampax, that soon some cute guy in Math
would listen because of my realistic hip action,
that there would be real kisses from real boys,
not the flat paper guys I drew, imagining
what lips really felt like, coloring my rock stars
with their guitars, fretting their fingers
over their zippered crotches, braiding
the Ramones into my hair, fantasizing
that I was secretly the one who had it all,
me on whom nothing was lost, me
with my leather jacket without an S,
burning it all down as I took my heart
out of my body, not wanting to be
a hardworking anything, but instead
a rock Starr, the popular and discontinued
girl, forever teen, 2 good 2 B 4 gotten, turning
up my Walkman on the world, as I taught
myself to dance the hallways alone, singing
through my teeth, exploding through
everything for no other reason
than because I said so.
Note: The Starr line of Barbie, though extraordinarily successful, was discontinued after only a few years. It ran from approximately 1980-1982.
Julie E. Bloemeke (she/her) is the 2021 Georgia Author of the Year Finalist for Poetry. Her full-length collection Slide to Unlock (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2020) was chosen as a 2021 Book All Georgians Should Read. An associate editor for South Carolina Review, she served as co-editor for the Dolly Parton issue of Limp Wrist. A finalist for the 2020 Fischer Prize, her work has appeared in publications including Writer’s Chronicle, Prairie Schooner, Cortland Review, Gulf Coast, EcoTheo Review, and others.
Julie Marie Wade (she/her) is the author of 13 collections of poetry, prose, and hybrid forms, including the book-length lyric essay Just an Ordinary Woman Breathing (The Ohio State University Press, 2020) and Skirted: Poems (The Word Works, 2021). She co-authored The Unrhymables: Collaborations in Prose with Denise Duhamel in 2019 and Telephone: Essays in Two Voices with Brenda Miller in 2021. Wade teaches creative writing at Florida International University and lives in Dania Beach with her spouse Angie Griffin.
I’m addicted to meet-cutes.
I wanna hear how Stellar & Squat found each other
in a gallery on Zoom, or how, moping post-divorce,
Stoic met Bumptious at a bar. How delicious
these stories are— refusing to account
for the meeting, re-meeting once beginning’s done.
I see, I want, I know. I knew. You/you/you.
If Ren & Ariel from Footloose stayed together,
they’d be 55 this year, dancing likely never.
Danny Zuko & Sandy?: 81. Oh, baby. Boom.
Where was Greased Lightning flying
so straight, so soon? Once, your touch
scorched my skin/soul/forever. Now,
forever’s come & we’ve assembled it
like Ikea furniture. Nodding,
we stand back together before vanishing
into different rooms. Box cleaved like a clam,
screws unused, & when our friends come by,
we recount The Tale…
…of The Day we brought little Kallax home:
how we banqueted at the end
of a table for twenty— meatballs,
lingonberries, & cake— knights running
royal errands on a map crowded with couples
out to hunt & gather, we had them one up—
riding high around kitchen land’s logjam,
reconnoitering a restroom deep
within a realm unmarked on the legend.
Glowing & heroic, we stowed Kallax safely
in the backseat & you said, I can’t believe
they’re letting us take her. We have no idea
what we’re doing. I turned to monitor
our future— crowned, quiet— &
climbed over: Go slower. I’ve got her.
Barbie & Ken once met/married
though I thought little of him— smug,
top down in the Dream Home’s driveway,
jumbo cell phone/tennis sweater.
No, for me, there was only Peaches & Cream.
I held her up in a shaft of light, turning her
organza gown, which clung like butter
to her bust & thought: she is Me.
Such breasts have got to be
standard issue, so mine’ll come soon:
via U.S. postal carrier— mailbox to body
like report cards for the file; or,
overnight when a magical pony—
bewinged & backed by a waxing moon—
bombs away & I bloom. Time works,
I knew, by steadily augmenting—
adding more/more/more until
we meet up with Ourselves
as intended. I’ll be her, I used to say
alone in my room, twirling Barbie
into a waltz wall-to-wall.
May I cut in?/escort you to prom?/
pour you a nightcap?/drape you in my
varsity jacket?/assemble our love
one step/turn— one fraught,
bickering, & laden direction—
at a damn time?
Forgive me, I said,
but I don’t believe
L.J. Sysko’s (she/her) work has appeared/is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, Mississippi Review, Ploughshares, BEST NEW POETS, and her poetry chapbook: BATTLEDORE (Finishing Line Press, 2017). A 2022 Palm Beach Poetry Festival Thomas Lux Scholar, Sysko has been honored with Virginia Center for Creative Arts and Delaware Division of the Arts Fellowships and received finalist recognition from Copper Nickel's Jake Adam York Prize, Marsh Hawk Press, The Missouri Review's Jeffrey E. Smith Editors' Prize, Patricia Dobler Poetry Award, and The Pinch.
After the Ban
Barbie was never allowed
to enter the one-room studio apartments
of my early childhood. Epitome
of sexism my mother said.
A bad influence.
I played with Fisher Price people
and fire trucks instead,
hosting water-for-tea parties with plush animals
quietly while Mom studied.
Out of the blue (and into the pink),
my mother lifted the ban on Barbie
because her early-childhood professor said
excluding Barbie from a child’s repertoire
denied her hours of imaginative play
(though I wonder what that professor would say
to the prevalence of body dysmorphia
among girls who play with Barbie today).
The price of a real Barbie, Lexus
among fashion dolls, was more
than I could spend. Only knock offs
from the TG&Y, coarse hair
springing from heads that popped
easily off and faces prone to concave,
found their way to my toy chest
until Christmas when I unwrapped
a real Barbie, the scent of fresh
soft plastic clinging to my pajamas,
my hair. Our bohemian lifestyle
of tie dye and paisley, of art studios
and second-run movies, incense
and crystals seemed shabbier, more tattered
around the edges that day.
Being broke felt more like being poor
and I noticed more keenly the absence
of money and clothes, of certain types of food
in the fridge. Rather than becoming whatever
I wanted, as my mother encouraged,
I wanted all that was Barbie instead.
Barbie in Marriage Counseling
“Why can’t I feel something between my legs? Is it my fault or Kens?” Barbie sobs. The therapist
shakes his head.
“Have you asked Ken about this?” he asks. Ken just stares out the window. They both know
Barbie can’t talk to Ken. He blames her for the debt they’re in. And complains how she needs
Botox every week. And she’s always buying the latest trends.
“Even to cook pancakes, she has to go on Amazon and order a ruffled apron, cap, and matching
pumps,” Ken says. “And then post a photo of herself on Instagram.” It’s true. When the therapist
suggests they go out for an intimate evening, perhaps to a nice restaurant, or the local Dine & Dance,
“Whenever we go out, she begins the evening as a princess in a full-length strapless gown and a
sparkly crown. Then she dares the waiter to pull her sash, and suddenly she’s a 60’s popstar in a mini
skirt with black stockings and buckle boots. Press her necklace and she begins to sing. Turn her
head, her hair turns blue then pink then green. And of course, she has to snap photos all of this and
post them every ten seconds. If she gets only a thousand likes, she sulks.”
“That’s why I go out alone,” Barbie cries. “Ken doesn’t want me to express myself.”
“Can you agree to leave your iPhone behind?” the therapist asks? “Just once?”
Barbie throws herself on the therapist couch. She sweeps her hair to one side and unbuttons her
blouse, then snaps a photo. Beneath it she writes, “Even my therapist doesn’t understand any of
this.” She posts and tweets and Instagrams it.
The LIKES start pouring in. LIKES and LIKES and more LIKES. She feels better then. So much
better. She likes the LIKES so much, she even wonders if that’s what sex really is.
The author of 7 chapbooks and 7 full-length poetry collections, Nin Andrews (she/her) has won two Ohio individual artist grants, the Pearl Chapbook Contest, the Kent State University chapbook contest, the Gerald Cable Poetry Award, and the 2016 Ohioana Poetry Award. Her poems have appeared in many literary reviews and anthologies including Agni, The Paris Review, The Best of the Prose Poem, and four volumes of Best American Poetry. Her book, The Last Orgasm, was published by Etruscan Press in 2020.
Barbie on the Creation of Ken
Back from the war in my revenge
dress, I’ve come to kill love. Alexa—
bring me the axe. I’ll carve the idealized man
out of living stone: chemically happy, dumb
as hair. A man in motion
is most important. To the femur—
make it long so he’ll walk right
out my life. Give the arms strength
to beat me black & blue. I’ll make a fast
machine so I don’t have to compete with anyone
but myself. There should be no voice box—
the inner world only teeth shattering dreams.
I’m fasten eyes to get lost in,
to crawl inside. The pulling of his lower nerve
will stop time. It is here
the true site of human bloom.
Alexa—turn on the gas.
Alexa—strike the match. Behold:
the temple in man. I walk home
through his hypostyle halls. I touch his skin.
I see wonderful things.
I see the end of the world.
Adam and Eve, Not Adam and Steve
My born-again aunt-in-law has no idea,
when she buys my daughters Bridal Barbie,
what she’s starting –
Their only Ken’s not fancy enough
to match, missing a shoe besides;
so they dig out their other white-gowned doll
and all afternoon make the two women marry.
In childhood I spread Barbie’s legs
and forced her onto plastic horses --
jockey or ranch hand. Later I hated her
for the scrunched feet and waist/bust ratio
that would topple a flesh and blood woman.
Now, she’s an ally.
True, my daughters mostly dress and undress
the guests, trade halters and skirts, argue
over the highest heels.
But now and then there’s a ceremony,
and, amid giggle fits, a kiss.
Let’s take pictures, show Aunt Bea
how much you like her present.
Spitefulness is a sin. I’m saved
by the girls inviting me to play instead.
I dress Skipper, spiky haired
from a beauty school game, in a gold glitter
bra and mermaid tail.
She’s wearing that to a wedding?
I add a fuchsia muff.
She’s the Merqueen, bringing
treasure for the brides --
shell barrettes, a tiny golf club,
Ken’s remaining shoe.
Alison Stone (she/her) has published seven full-length collections, Zombies at the Disco (Jacar Press, 2020), Caught in the Myth (NYQ Books, 2019), Dazzle (Jacar Press, 2017), Masterplan, collaborative poems with Eric Greinke (Presa Press, 2018), Ordinary Magic, (NYQ Books, 2016), Dangerous Enough (Presa Press 2014), and They Sing at Midnight, which won the 2003 Many Mountains Moving Poetry Award; as well as three chapbooks. She has been awarded Poetry’s Frederick Bock Prize and New York Quarterly’s Madeline Sadin Award.
My Father Gave Me The Visible Woman, Forgetting I Was Eight
An exciting assembly kit!
All organs can be removed and replaced. EDUCATIONAL and FUN!
Added feature: THE MIRACLE OF BIRTH!
My list ran long that year: Barbie with a red bouffant,
a slick black ponytail, Barbie in pink negligee,
Barbie, whose legs did not spread when she sat,
breasts with no nipples, buttocks barely cleft.
He was a man who hated Christmas, thought of guns
and knives as children’s gifts. But here under the tree:
a package just the size of an asked-for Barbie doll case
with a tag that read To Barby, from Dad.
Under the ripped paper, a flayed woman smiled faintly.
I lifted the lid to bags of pink organs, skeleton pieces,
halves of a ghost woman, paint, glue. Buried
in the clutter: an unadorned cardboard box, plain, sealed.
Inside: a crystal pod, teardrop shaped. A flesh fetus
in pieces: front, back, dismembered leg. A snap-on belly,
seen through to crushed intestines, an enbubbled baby,
the indelible unsaid: this is what you become.
B. Fulton Jennes (she/her) is the Poet Laureate of Ridgefield, CT, where she leads intergenerational poetry workshops and serves as poet-in-residence at The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. Her poems have appeared in Comstock Review, Tupelo Quarterly, The Night Heron Barks, Tar River Poetry, Vassar Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Ekphrastic Review, and many other journals and anthologies. Her chapbook Mammoth Spring was a finalist in the 2021 Button Poetry Chapbook Contest, and another chapbook, Blinded Birds, will be published in spring of 2022.
Let’s start with the 3 Rs:
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
Actually, let’s skip #1: I don’t
reduce. At sixty-three, I’m as tall
and taut as ever, and always
will be, like Jane Fonda,
while you wrinkle and shrink
and go soft in the middle.
#2, Reuse. Hand me down
to your daughter, grand-
daughter, the kid you babysit:
my hard body will outlive you
and your shoddy civilization.
#3, Recycle. I can be nothing
besides Barbie, but I last:
buy me vintage or second-hand.
Yes, I’m made of plastic, but
keep me out of the landfill,
above all the ocean. What’s
my secret? I eat no meat
or dairy. I live on pure
imagination. Kids can play
with me for days—no streaming,
no power, no batteries required.
True, I used to be addicted to
shopping, especially for shoes,
but I’m over that. You can
trade clothes and accessories
with friends, make me a new dress
out of a tube sock! Even my
Dream House uses no oil,
my pink car burns no gas.
Until they figure out how
to make Bamboo Barbie
or Carbon Capture Barbie,
I’m still your best bet. Just
hang on to me, then pass
me on. No worries about
my carbon footprint. No one’s
footprint is tinier than mine.
Barbara Louise Ungar (she/her) was named after her great-aunt Barushka. Her siblings called her Brub, her friends, Barb. Later she went by Barbara, Babs, BLU, or sometimes, with students, Dr. Barbie. When she first read Kinky, she wondered, why didn’t I think of that?! She tries to include a Barbie poem in each of her six books, including “Kabbalah Barbie” in Immortal Medusa, and “Man Bun Ken” in her latest, Save Our Ship, winner of the Ashland Poetry Prize.
In Defense of My Mother Who Never Bought Me a Barbie Dreamhouse
I was too young to understand
just how young my mother was
when she worked the nightshift
at TRW, building spacecrafts
with her hands, too young to know
how it felt to hand over the whole
of her check to my father
who gave her an allowance—
ten dollars after 40 hours,
ten dollars he’d drop into her palm
every pay day.
I understood Barbie called the shots.
That Dreamhouse was hers, Ken,
an accessory sans the authority
to tell her what to do.
I wrote thirty-one letters
to Santa that year,
but he wasn’t in charge.
My father was.
I thought I stood a chance
because Mami loved Barbie’s
mid-century mod A frame too,
how the chalet gleamed up at us
from the slick pages of the Sears catalog,
the wonder of real jalousie windows
and wall-to-wall carpets unfurled
on the kitchen table where she calculated
just how long she’d have
to lay that chalet away,
just how much she’d have to beg
to convince my father to pay.
I watched her turn the page,
no dogear to save her place.
I’d like to say I was happy
with the Barbie Dream Plane
she placed under the tree, but I blamed her.
It would take years to understand
she didn’t want me to dream of staying put,
she wanted me to dream of flying away.
Caridad Moro-Gronlier (she/her) is the author of Tortillera (TRP 2021), Visionware (Finishing Line Press 2009), Contributing Editor for Grabbed: Poets and Writers Respond to Sexual Assault (Beacon Press, 2020) and Associate Editor for "SWWIM Every Day", an online daily poetry journal for women. Moro-Gronlier is the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation Grant and a Florida Artist Fellowship in poetry.Recent projects include "A Heroic Sonnet Crown for Mayor Daniella Levine Cava,” and the O, Miami Off-Shore Fellowship.
Always wears long sleeves, scarves
to disguise her long neck, leggings
even in summer. She flinches
when anyone raises a posable arm,
shoves an opposable thumb
at the door and tells her
to get out. She drives
to the ocean’s ragged edge
with the top down, parks
near the pilings, a seagull
perched on each, the chains
between them swinging,
singing in the sea breeze.
Here she can breathe, bring
the clean salt-scrubbed air
into her hollow body, one
of the first ever made
before they went to solid
plastic to make the legs
and arms more bendable
so she could throw them up
to cover her face.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Dorianne Laux’s (she/her) most recent collection is Only As The Day Is Long: New and Selected (W.W. Norton). She is also author of The Book of Men, winner of the Paterson Poetry Prize and Facts about the Moon, winner of the Oregon Book Award. She teaches poetry at North Carolina State and Pacific University. In 2020, Laux was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Posing them is not the point, she said
when I asked my friend's lover
if she was returned, in making, control.
She was glamorous, haughty. Broom skirts
were her constant uniform. I couldn't say,
Poise is not command over a body,
but I wasn't sure if I believed that, then.
The dolls sported opposable thumbs
but never any mouths. They hitchhiked,
but couldn't say where to. Maybe
it's enough to witness La Sagrada Familia
or the world's saddest dessert trays,
but not say astonished, hunger. Maybe
being is the point. Maybe someone could
make an opposable James who believes that.
All I've ever said is a version of: Make me.
My friend would ask for a particular story
when he was sad, and I'd tell him:
I was a kid, half-naked in the front yard
sculpting mud pies, a mud house where
Barbie would live, staring—I realized
too late—at dirt walls. I forgot windows,
doors. No way Barbie could enter my
biography. No way either to escape.
As I played, my neighbor, Ken-doll good
looks, waxed his car. His chest was like
a commercial for chests. When he drove past,
I unleashed the mud. Honey, I baked! I yelled.
My mom marched me to his door, made me
apologize, clean the splatter from his car.
Life will begin, I repeated in my head,
when Barbie comes.
At the exhibit, some dolls were stapled
to the walls, eye-level, by their hands.
Others affixed to pastel toadstools.
Like Alice got crucified in Wonderland.
I thought, Landscapes are where you put
your body in relief. Then: landscapes want
to undo you. The dolls stared up at blank
ceilings. My friend transfixed with anger
when I left early. I couldn't confront
what I thought I wanted: a life I didn't have
to compose myself.
An existential dilemma: There is no Barbie
without her dreamhouse, no dreamhouse
without Barbie. When it arrived,
the breakup was hard for my friend:
rearranging his formal arrangements,
fighting for what was gifted. It was like
removing the pink façade, finding all
along it was cheap particle board.
He punched through walls in the new
apartment to prove he was real. The holes
consoled him. He said, Love animates us
until the last until. That summer, I stayed
in Cincinnati in case he got tired of the hospital
sewing him up. You have to believe in another
iteration of you, a better-future you. I was
Magician James. Healer James. Desperate
James, gesturing towards all the adventures
waiting out west, in Malibu.
I took in the dolls he couldn't bear to trash.
I got right in their saggy faces and said,
My friend died, but nothing registered.
They were endlessly protected. I thought
I would not write poems if he couldn't
read them. Then that's all I could do:
pose him on a rooftop, chainsmoking,
ledge-leaning, ashing a rain of embers.
Pose him scrawling graffiti on hotel walls:
You're not home you're in love. Pose: arms
whirling. Pose: legs split like a gymnast.
Him storm-still, rigid when he discovered
I didn't attend the funeral. The dolls made
bad Ouija boards, worse landscapes. One night
I threw a doll off my roof to see what distance
imagines. Then I put that in a poem too.
Stitch after awful stitch. I tried to contain his
essence. Here. Recreate. Cage. Understand.
The verbs were like horses in a gilded carousel
whose music is too weak to stay in your ears.
The horses bob, alter position, but ultimately
they're stuck on the same axis. It only looks
like beauty. A poem is a mouth after
there is no body to shut it in.
James Allen Hall (he/him) is the author of Now You're the Enemy (poems) and I Liked You Better Before I Knew You So Well (lyric essays). A third book, Romantic Comedy, is forthcoming in 2023 from FourWay Books. He is the recipient of poetry fellowships from the National Endowment of the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, and the Maryland State Arts Council. With Aaron Smith, he hosts Breaking Form: A Podcast of Poetry and Culture.
Joanna Fuhrman (she/her) is the author of six books of poetry, including To a New Era (Hanging Loose Press, 2021), The Year of Yellow Butterflies (Hanging Loose Press, 2015) and Pageant (Alice James Books, 2009). She currently teaches poetry and multimedia writing at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and coordinates the faculty and alumni readings there. She's working on a new book called Data Mind about digital life as a non-digital native.
An 11.5-inch Generic Fashion Doll Speaks Truth to Barbie
My legs don't bend at the hip or knee but
I have little rubber shoes just like you.
I don't have a pink Austin Healey
but my boyfriend rides a Harley. Put that
in your tailpipe and smoke it, Barbie.
I cover every quarter inch of the ground I stand on,
and there's a special rapport that develops
in the dollar store when some little girl
wheedles a dollar bill from her daddy, rips open
my plastic sleeve, squeezes me around the waist
gleefully. Tired people smile and the cashier
rings me up, just like someone rang up your overpriced ass
in some fancy store. I'm trying not to swear, but it's the way
I'm made. I'm the Tonya Harding of the 11.5-inch lifelike doll set,
plastic hard as hell, built cheap, totally unbendable
so little fingers have to work hard to get those tiny clothes
pulled all the way up my rigid limbs. I think I'll smoke
a cigarette while you do your nails. I've got hardware store
and bowling alley sets in my future, Barbie, and my
little girl loves me, just as much as yours loves you.
Judy Ireland's (she/her) poems have appeared in Hotel Amerika, Calyx, Saranac Review, Eclipse, Cold Mountain, and other journals, and been anthologized in Best Indie Lit New England anthology and Voices from the Fierce Intangible World. Her book, Cement Shoes, won the 2013 Sinclair Poetry Prize, and was published by Evening Street Press (2014). She is Co-Director for the Performance Poets of the Palm Beaches, an editor for the South Florida Poetry Journal. She teaches at Palm Beach State College.
In 1977, we’d taken to fashion, stitching miniskirts for Barbie from scrap—
we hoped our mother didn’t notice what was missing from her stash.
A neighbor created a Barbie couch and chair from milk cartons.
No one on our block could afford a Barbie house. We made do with boxes.
Our mother didn’t notice when we were missing—
my sister and I, always at the neighbor’s in the afternoons.
No one on our block could afford a Barbie house. We made do with boxes.
Being at the neighbor’s kept us safe.
My sister and I went to the neighbor’s in the afternoons
to play Barbies and avoid being at home.
Being at the neighbor’s kept us safe—
home was something we didn’t talk about.
We played Barbies with the neighbors to avoid being at home.
Our mother pretended nothing was wrong.
Home was something we didn’t talk about.
We learned to keep our secrets secret.
Our mother pretended nothing was wrong;
we considered running away: missing children on milk cartons.
Instead, we kept our secrets secret.
In 1977, we played with Barbies.
In 1978, my sister cut Barbie’s golden locks from her hair,
swiped pink magic marker across her scalp,
unhinged her delicate hand from its arm,
transformed her from pretty and polished to pure punk.
Instead of swiping pink magic marker across her scalp,
my sister cut wounds into her thighs,
transformed herself from pretty and polished to pure punk.
Like the doll, she became something else.
Over time, my sister made bigger cuts along her thighs.
Sometimes she cut her arms and wrists, too.
Like the doll, she wanted to be someone else,
not the girl who couldn’t have peace in the world.
When really sad, she cut her arms and wrists, too.
She blamed our father for everything—
a mean man who couldn’t make peace with the world.
He taught us which cuts wound deepest.
She blamed our father for everything;
he once unhinged her delicate hand from its arm.
He taught us which cuts wound deepest.
In 1978, my sister played with Barbies.
When my mother caught Ken fucking Barbie, she looked away without saying a word.
My sister, 9, and I, 6,
had not yet been guided through the Little Golden Book of Sex
we once found hidden in the kitchen cupboard.