They arrived for Christmas—
yours blonde, mine brunette
just like in real life.
My Barbie came with clothes
my mother made—a leopard cloak
with a midnight lining,
a tan safari outfit, a sea blue satin
and tulle ball gown
that was never hemmed.
Yours wore the Barbie-at-the-beach outfit
with cute platform sandals of real cork,
the Barbie-off-the-shoulder-cocktail dress,
in gold metallic brocade.
Your Barbie’s clothes hung neatly
in the special wardrobe traveling case.
I crammed mine into a shoe box,
where tiny bows unraveled
and blue tulle crumbled.
My Barbie went on sandbox adventures,
crawled through tall grass,
and tunneled through jungle swamps.
A bruise the color of ash on her left thigh,
a blue machete scar on her arm,
she lost her right canvas vacation sneaker,
tore her tan safari outfit,
and finally became a barefoot Jane
from an old Tarzan movie.
Your Barbie’s skin stayed smooth
as cold cream, her dresses kept their pleats,
unruffled bows neatly tied, shoes
all in a row below.
Her blonde ponytail sleek and shiny
as the day she came off the assembly line.
When our Barbies met under the eaves
in your bedroom, they exchanged clothes
and gossiped. My Barbie loved
the white satin wedding gown
with pearl embossed veil and train,
yours liked the leopard cloak.
Later your Barbie took up with Ken
whose unbending arms extended forward
in a perpetual reach.
My Barbie hung out with my little brother’s GI Joe
who she thought a Neanderthal
compared to Ken.
But his accessories were better
and sometimes she wore his camouflage suit,
or borrowed his life raft with its miniature oars,
snorkeling fins, face mask, and oxygen tank
and took long dives into the underworld of the bathtub
until she began to go bald.
Your Barbie still consented to talk with her
and share Ken that interloper
who was constantly on vacation in his swim trunks.
My Barbie wanted to be like yours,
but always the distances
of backyards tugged at her
and that wonderful equipment GI Joe had—
the small dog sled he got
with its four tiny huskies with red lolling tongues
which she stole the minute GI Joe was put away
and started on an expedition into the cold, white reaches
of the North Pole in search of Eskimos,
polar bears and the land of the midnight sun.
—Elizabeth Weber (Marion County)
This poem is from The Burning House and first appeared in The Flying Island.
Elizabeth Weber has three poetry books: Small Mercies, The Burning House, and Porthole Views: Watercolors and Poems, a collaboration with artist Hazel Stoeckeler. Her poem “City Generations” is part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. She’s published poems in Calyx, Verse, Kalliope, Puerto del Sol, and other journals. She has essays in CutBank, Prairie Schooner, The Human Tradition and The Vietnam War, Montana Magazine, and Consequence. She teaches at University of Indianapolis.
Poetry Prompt: Memories of a Childhood Toy
What childhood toy once fascinated you and seems to hold significance beyond its entertainment value? This might be a doll or action figure or something like Lincoln logs or Legos, monster models or Silly Putty. Describe the details of this toy that intrigued you and use strong verbs to describe how you played with it. Do your memories foreshadow the future in any way or reveal something about your relationship with a sibling or friend? Do they signify something about the culture you grew up in or the atmosphere within your home?
Indiana Humanities is celebrating National Poetry Month by sharing a poem and prompt every day in April. Indiana Poet Laureate Shari Wagner selected these poems and wrote the prompts.