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 Click here to listen
to Denise& Dustin's Barbie
interview on The Hive.

 
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 The Barbie issue is discussed in the Best American Poetry blog. Read here.

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Barbra Nightingale

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

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Ben Kline

Pronouns: He/Him

1 Poem

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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

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Beth Gylys

Pronouns: She/Her

3 Poems

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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 DrinkSpot in the Dark, and Bodies that Hum; she has also published two chapbooks Matchbook and Balloon Heart.

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Dan Vera

Pronouns: He/Him

1 Poem

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Kenitalia

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.

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Diamond Forde

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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

                            fucking eat        

 

                                                        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

turned headlights)

 

                            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 asleep,

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)

Diamond Forde (she/her) is the author of Mother Body, with Saturnalia Books. Her work has been published in Obsidian, Boston Review, Massachusetts Review and more. She is a University Fellow at UNC-Asheville and a PhD candidate at Florida State University.

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Dion O'Reilly

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

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Emma Bolden

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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Girl Lessons

 

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.

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Gal Freire

Pronouns: She/Her

2 Poems

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Voodoo Barbie*

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

desires.

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

she admits
“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."

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Gregg Shapiro

Pronouns: He/Him

1 Poem

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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 ReviewExquisite PandemicRFD, Gargoyle, Limp WristMollyhouse, 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. 

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Jennifer Franklin

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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Christmas 1979 

 

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 ReviewBennington ReviewBoston Review, Gettysburg Review, JAMA, The Nation, Paris Review, “poem-a-day” on poets.orgPrairie Schooner, and Rhino. She teaches manuscript revision at the Hudson Valley Writers Center, where she is Program Director. She lives in NYC.

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Jessica Barksdale

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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Barbie Dream

 

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.

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Julie E. Bloemeke

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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Rock Starr

 

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 ChroniclePrairie Schooner, Cortland ReviewGulf Coast, EcoTheo Review, and others. 

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Julie Marie Wade

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

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L.J. Sysko

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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

we’ve met.

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.

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Lisa Hase Jackson

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

Lisa M. Hase-Jackson (she/her) is the author of Flint and Fire (The Word Works), winner of the 2019 Hilary Tham Capital Collection Series as selected by Jericho Brown. She is Editor in Chief for South 85 Journal.

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Nin Andrews

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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,

Ken groans.

 

“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.

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Stephen Zerance

Pronouns: He/Him

1 Poem

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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.

Stephen Zerance (he/him) is the author of Safe Danger (Indolent Books 2018). He has been previously published in West Branch, Prairie Schooner, Poet Lore, Knockout, among other journals. He has also been featured on the websites of Lambda Literary and Split This Rock. 

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Alison Stone

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

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B. Fulton Jennes

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

 
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Barbara Ungar

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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Green Barbie

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.

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Caridad Moro-Gronlier

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

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Dorianne Laux

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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Abused Barbie

 

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.

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James Allen Hall

Pronouns: He/Him

1 Poem

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The Dolls

 

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. 

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Joanna Fuhrman

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

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Judy Ireland

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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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.

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Kathleen Nalley

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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Plastic

1.

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.

2.

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.

3.

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.

My sister, 9, and I, 6,
already understood what happens when bodies collide.

One time, we hid from our father in the kitchen cupboard

since we never knew what he would do.

We already understood what happens when bodies collide.

Our father made sure of that.
Those days, we never knew what he would do.
Instead of telling anyone, we played with our Barbies.

Our father made sure that
my sister and I hardly spoke.

Instead, we played with our Barbies.

We became plastic.

My sister and I hardly spoke,
especially not about the Little Golden Book of Sex.
We became plastic.
When my mother caught Ken fucking Barbie, she looked away without saying a word.

Kathleen Nalley (she/her) is the author of the award-winning prose poetry collection, Gutterflower, as well as the poetry chapbooks Nesting Doll and American Sycamore. Her poetry has appeared in several anthologies and journals across the country. She holds an MFA from Converse College and teaches literature and writing at Clemson University.

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Kerry Trautman

Pronouns: She/Her

2 Poems

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Mattel Never Made an I Can Be... Barbie Like My Life Turned-Out

 

Scooping the cat litter Barbie.

Bourbon drinking Barbie.

Always cold Barbie.

Hating most of what she writes Barbie.

 

Laundry folding Barbie.

Wadding up the fucking fitted sheet Barbie.

Bra and underwear never match Barbie.

Never needing outfits that go day-to-night Barbie.

Getting excited to get dressed-up and go out somewhere

     but becoming anxious twenty minutes in

     and just wanting to run home for

     sweats and PBS Barbie.

Acne at age 40-something Barbie.

A-cup Barbie.

Needing Ken’s help to peel off her Spanx Barbie.

 

Second-hand furniture Barbie.

Rolling her eyes at Midge’s pseudo-inspirational-quote

     life-coach bullshit Instagram Barbie.

Scrolling socials when she could be dusting Barbie.

Hasn’t vacuumed in two weeks Barbie.

Can’t find anything in her giant purse Barbie.

Buying something she knows she has in the basement 

     somewhere but can’t find it, and of course

     finds it a week after buying that same thing Barbie.

 

Having a huge TBR pile but

     still feeling obligated to buy books written by

     people she knows, even if they’re only

     casual acquaintances Barbie.

Hating most of what she reads Barbie.

 

Reluctant school fundraiser chair because

     no one else will fucking do it Barbie.

Tax spreadsheet Barbie.

Drinking cabernet while filling-out the FAFSA Barbie.

Cursing at her email because Midge can’t seem to

     answer all of her damn questions which means

     she’s just going to have to email again Barbie.

Worrying clients will sue her Barbie.

 

Forgetting her grocery list on the counter Barbie.

Hiding Taco Bell bags deep in the trash

     so her kids won’t know she went

     through the drive thru without them

     while out running errands Barbie.

On hold with the gas company Barbie.

Arguing with health insurance Barbie.

Singing loud to Broadway cast albums in the car until

     a red light where just hums so the car next to her

     doesn’t think she’s crazy Barbie.

Gin drinking Barbie.

 

Calls herself a writer but rarely makes time to write Barbie.

Wishing she could fill her house with cats because

     they’re guaranteed to love her Barbie.

Watching the clock until she can pour a whiskey

      at a reasonable hour of the evening Barbie.

Stealing double-A batteries from

     her kid’s light-up Blue’s Clues toy

     to use in her vibrator Barbie.

Masturbating to a Jake Gyllenhaal

     Google image search Barbie.

Burying dead stray cats in the back yard Barbie.

Scrubbing period blood from the bathroom rug Barbie.

 

 

Loving You

 

Loving You Barbie stashes cash

in a Folgers can behind the sugar,

promising herself when there’s enough

she’ll finally leave Ken.

 

She always gives-in, ends up

depositing it in the bank after a few months.

He’s going to notice. And it’s not secure—

having cash lying around.

 

How much will be enough?

A few months’ rent on a small place.

Can she get her own health insurance

if not officially divorced?

 

She would need enough cash for

deposits to turn on water and gas.

And a car. She’ll leave Ken the corvette

because she can’t drive stick.

 

She’ll leave him the citrus vodka but

take the vanilla. Take the pink vanity

and chair, leave him the yellow sofa.

Take the pink dish set, leave the white.

 

She’s been boxing up clothes and

shoes and purses she doesn’t use,

having garage sales so when she leaves 

there’s less to move out.

 

Jewel Secrets Whitney could show her

where to sell her jewelry, let her crash

a few days. Could she sell the speed boat?

She’ll add her passport to the Folgers can

 

and spare house key, and stash a suitcase

below the Dream Pool deck.

She’ll have to change it out with

winter clothes in a few months.

Kerry Trautman is a poetry editor for Red Fez, and her work has appeared in various anthologies and journals such as Midwestern GothicRat's Ass ReviewAlimentum, Slippery Elm, Paper & Ink, and Free State Review. Her poetry books are Marilyn: Self-Portrait, Oil on Canvas (Gutter Snob Books 2022), Things That Come in Boxes (King Craft Press 2012,) To Have Hoped (Finishing Line Press 2015,) Artifacts (NightBallet Press 2017,) and To be Nonchalantly Alive (Kelsay Books 2020.)

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Michael Montlack

Pronouns: He/Him

1 Poem

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No Room for Dreams in Barbie’s Dreamhouse

There’s nothing left to daydream about

when you have everything worth wanting.

Walk-in closets crammed with couture. Ken waxing

the Corvette again. She’s tried every damn career.

Another selfie featuring her dainty rigid toes

against the backdrop of her turquoise pool?

For what?

She discovered long ago this new kind of hell:

the redundancy of too much of a good thing.

When every day is a Good Hair Day, every day

becomes just another forgettable good day.

She wonders if she is a beautiful monster.
Why she was created to live such a curse.
Considers ringing Raggedy Ann or Holly Hobbie,

hoping they could ungussy her up. A make-under.

Just to shatter the monotony of her glamour.
But they don’t own phones! Simple country living ...

Chatty Cathy is sure to have plenty of advice.
All platitudes on repeat. More hellish redundancy.

Dressy Bessy would only want to talk fashion.

And Betsy Wetsy ... well, that’d just be messy.

Kewpie and Cabbage Patchers? Way too young.

Maybe this is a job for Mrs. Potato Head?

God, the carbs alone sound revolutionary.

Michael Montlack is author of two poetry collections and editor of the Lambda Finalist anthology My Diva: 65 Gay Men on the Women Who Inspire Them (University of Wisconsin Press). His poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, North American Review, The Offing, and others. His prose has appeared in Huffington Post, Kenyon Review and Advocate.com. In 2020, two of his poems were nominated for Pushcart Prizes and one was a finalist for Best of the Net. He lives in NYC. 

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Michael Steffen

Pronouns: He/Him

1 Poem

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Sympathy for Ken

You started out buff and blue-eyed

with nine polyester leisure suits—

 

a phallus-less, Hellenistic man-doll,

spindly fan of casual swimwear,

 

smiling like a flight attendant beside

the most talented ballerina-astronaut

 

in all of Malibu, arm candy for

Barbie’s six runs at the presidency.

 

When she finally let you move into her

glam-centric, cardboard mega-mansion,

 

the only concession granted you

was a toilet seat that lifted up. How

 

you could simply date your dream girl—

that ageless Princess of Pinkdom—

 

for 43 years was beyond me,

and through every disparate phase—

 

wheelchair, “Total Hair,” burka, hijab—

until she finally broke up with you

 

on Valentine’s Day in ’04 after

you tried to get down on one knee.

 

How could she not be ready

for some kind of commitment?

 

Man, I feel bad for you. Sure,

she took you back 7 years later,

 

but now you’re a friend, not a lover.

You’re Ken the Platonic, Beefy

 

Asian Ken with 20/40 vision,

Record Executive Ken with cornrows,                                                                                 

 

Doofus Ken, Sovereign of the Crystal Caves,

Ken with a Man Bun, Pot-bellied Ken,

 

using commodes in mysterious ways.

You’re a Kenneth consigned 

 

to a singular hellish purpose:

to be every conceivable man in the universe—

 

ageless, agnostic, ambiguously diverse—

all dating the same self-absorbed woman.

 

Dude, leave the closet, take the Dreamplane.

I promise, in time, she’ll cruise by your shoebox

 

in her bubblegum pink 1962 Austin Healey

clock radio-slash-convertible, blasting

 

some horrible eighties love song—Oh I,

I just died in your arms tonight

 

chain-smoking tiny Virginia Slims,

sobbing and vulnerable, easy to hurt.

Michael Steffen's (he/him) fourth poetry collection, Blood Narrative, was recently published by Main Street Rag Press.  New work has appeared, or will appear soon, in Panoply, New Mexico Review and The Lowell Review.  Michael is a graduate of the MFA writing program at Vermont College and currently lives in Buffalo, NY.  Poems, instructions on how to purchase books and further biographical data can be found at Michael's website.

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Nikki Moustaki

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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The Venus’ Vestigial Prongs

          [Barbie] reminds Mom what she believes deep down but dares not express: Better her daughter should                   appeal in a sleazy way to a man than be unable to attract one at all.

                        --Forever Barbie: The Unauthorized Biography of a Real Doll

 

There exist an estimated one billion plus pairs of Barbie shoes

around the world littered over little girls’ Barbie-pink rooms,

shrink-wrapped in Barbie’s collectors’ stockpiles,

buried beneath mountainous trash peaks, un-bio-degradable PVC

and Totally Barbie from Where You’re Sitting, U.S.A. to Where

You Aren’t, You Pick the Nation, and has anyone other than those

little girls taken a good gander at Barbie’s feet?

                            

Everything Barbie does, Barbie does in heels. A lady

wears heels. Barbie is a lady, horseback riding or baking bread

in her pink Malibu Dream House, sprawled half-undressed

and face-down beneath her eunuch boyfriend, Barbie points those toes

towards Rome and every road in between.

 

There are more Barbies in the United States than people, therefore

twice that many Barbie feet, and what does that reveal about our

National psyche? We can never allow Barbie to challenge her position

as the very vision of heterosexual male desire by erasing

the graceful saunter a high pair of heels gives the body,

the jut of the perfect hindquarters, the expression they lend

to even the most flaccid pair of calves.

 

For every era Barbie has survived since her birth as a full-grown Venus

in 1959, she has transformed: her gaze re-directed,

her waist and head supplied swivels, knees rendered

bends, obsolete materials updated, wardrobe repeating

the paragons around her: natural fabrics in the 60’s, polyester

in the 70’s, shoulder pads in the 80s. Talking Barbie now says

Girls can do anything when she used to say Math class is hard.

 

If Barbie is a barometer for social change, then what does it say

that her feet have remained the same, that her shoes still have that acute incline?

Our Space-Age Venus can barely totter, though she’s competent

at commanding a pink Corvette and her very own Lear jet.

History shows the Stone Age Venus didn’t have working feet either.

Ancient fertility goddesses had puny prongs at the end of their ankles,

and to stand erect, must be plunged into the earth.

 

Exciting new possibilities: Garden Ornament Barbie.

Grow Your Own Barbie. Ultimate Fecundity Icon Barbie.

No wonder Barbie has a billion shoes.

She really is the perfect woman, encouraging the masses

of flat-footed mothers to continue providing their daughters

with her Dream Bathrooms and Dream Kitchens,

Dream Ponies and Dream Palaces, the infinitesimal

Dream Feet, the perfect gams at the end of a perfect dream.

Nikki Moustaki (she/her), author of the memoir, The Bird Market of Paris (Henry Holt, 2015), holds an MA in poetry from New York University, an MFA in poetry from Indiana University, and an MFA in fiction from New York University. She is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant in poetry. She is also the author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing Poetry and the poetry collection, Extremely Lightweight Guns (Red Hen Press, 2020).

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Peter Johnson

Pronouns: He/Him

1 Poem

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In the basement, in the playroom, Ken's throwing darts at another Ken while the flies of fairy tales nod off on a concrete wall, on a red plunger by the sink, on a lonesome cue ball. Upstairs, a pair of twins dancing on a hardwood floor, pushing tiny Santas in miniature baby strollers. I need help to sit down. "Next you'll be wanting a back rub," my brother says, then leaps from a coffee table, toppling our Christmas tree. Not enough bulbs to poke holes through this night's black logic. No one strong enough to turn The Great Telescope, still partially unwrapped. Four hours to midnight, my niece embracing her Sleepy-Time Barbie, eyelids set to close at the turn of the century.

Peter Johnson’s (he/him) recent books are: Old Man Howling at the MoonA Cast-iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries from 80 Contemporary American Poets on Their Prose Poetry, editor; and Truths, Falsehoods, and a Wee Bit of Honesty: A Short Primer on the Prose Poem, With Selected Letters from Russell Edson.

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Sara Moore Wagner

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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My Familiar in the Shape of a Dollar Store Barbie

 

Push out of the thin plastic tomb you’ve been set into, hung

next to the fake vomit, sticky green glitter hands,

pills upon pills of sponge farm animals squished

in dissolvable casing. Unravel blonde, fashionable

and bendy, like me. We’re uncanny

in our resemblance to the other dolls

you pass in the aisle, brightly lit with hair fixed

just so. Go unfold your little bound fingers one by one,

peel yourself. Close your startling eyes for a minute.

Rest those stiffly hollow legs, the egg of your head pressed

in too close to your shoulders—raise it high. Go first

to the snack aisle, full of things unwanted as we

are: pickled jalapeno pretzels, fiddle faddle and corn

nuts, freeze dried peaches, sweating pudding. Aren’t we

beautiful among this. Don’t we know what we are?

Go on to my mother now, out the door, down the small

alley. Come to rest prone by her bedside where I want

to lie down but can’t, won’t, go there with your arms

up straight and wait for the naked curve of her foot

to crush you. This is how to vex with a shape. To break.

The outline of your breast will be a shadow on the wall.

She’ll see me there, the mark you leave will look just

like my face. Maybe she’ll call my name, over

and over, my name I scratch into everything that’s mine

with this long claw in the shape of a comb. I’ll use it

to fix your hair when it’s over. I’ll put you next to me

in my bed, surrounded by beautiful things I’ve collected

and broken just the same.

Sara Moore Wagner (she/her) is the winner of the 2021 Cider Press Review Editors Prize for her book Swan Wife (2022), and the 2020 Driftwood Press Manuscript Prize for Hillbilly Madonna (2022). She is also 2021 National Poetry Series Finalist, and the recipient of a 2019 Sustainable Arts Foundation award. Her poetry has appeared in many journals and anthologies including Sixth Finch, Waxwing, Nimrod, Beloit Poetry Journal, and The Cincinnati Review, among others.

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Suzanne Cleary

Pronouns: She/Her

1 Poem

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Midge

 

Hi. I’m Midge.

Midge. Barbie’s best friend.

I rode beside her in the Dream Car

if Ken couldn't be found,

if Barbie didn't speed off alone.

 

I’m cute, right? And sporty

in my blue coulottes

and red tam, my tennis racket,

while Barbie’s sport, mostly,

was dressing up, from Barbie Barbeque

 

to Solo in the Spotlight:

white blouse with billowy sleeves,

magenta velvet maxi-skirt

with rhinestone buttons,

a sap-green silk belt.

 

Solo came with a microphone.

Sometimes, when Barbie was lying

on the bedroom floor,

her sharp little feet peeking out

from under the dust ruffle,

 

I would take that mike

and I would wail.

I would twist at my waist

and raise both my arms

and I would wail,

 

the mike my Dream Car,

my sleek pink convertible

with tail fins. Where would it

take me? I never knew.

Not for me the Dream House,

 

the patent leather carrying case

with its cardboard hangers,

its little jammed drawers

of accessories. Not for me

the hours spent deciding,

 

Does this go with this?

Does this go with this?

Barbie would ask me,

and what could I say?

I wanted to say,

 

Barbie, it all goes together.

Not for me the pillbox hats

and poof-toed stilettos.

What could I, Midge, sell to America?

I needed nothing.

 

If Barbie was happy, I was happy.

Suzanne Cleary (she/her) is an ally who was not allowed to play with Barbies because they had breasts.  Fortunately, she preferred playing with trolls. Her poems have appeared in Best American Poetry and many other places.

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