Ode to Barbie Now

S.J. Dunning

You squat in attics of deadbeat dads whose daughters circled you in catalogues we’d later find in a flood that ruined almost everything. Your Corvette hasn’t run since Mr. Poodle and Meadow Muffin decided not to love each other circa 1988, and your shoes haven’t matched for just as long, their mates, and all your combs, swallowed by the cat-hair-depths of a blue couch us sisters would call long ago: respite from a western road, graveyard for what we were warned we’d lose if we weren’t careful enough. Some truths are too gross, even for us, no matter how ratty your platinum ponytail, how chewed upon your tiny toes, how much we loved you when we tore open the taped boxes beneath the Christmas tree and prettied you on the very cushions we recoil from now. But we like to think you’re making do where we left you last, that you’re scribbling on cardboard walls with the nubs of crayons we didn’t melt while smoking cigarettes, sucking as the “grown-ass-women” we were supposed to be “by now.” We like to think your poetry is homage to what you were before you entered our atmosphere and us yours: Princess, U.S. President, Lois Lane, Ballerina, which is what we used to be before the deluge stained our only tutus. Do you remember, as we do, Mervyn’s and JC Penney and the Sprouse Ritz across from the Ladies Lounge where we always stopped to pee before it shut down, before we outgrew our jelly sandals—and you—and dropped out of jazz? Do you remember the wires we freed your wrists from? Do you remember moving into your mansion in our white-walled bedrooms, all that furniture that matched? What about Ken into whose arms we used to push you as though his embrace might secure for everyone involved a better destiny? Do you ever write that hunk letters, reminiscing about the ship named Glamour II, his Birthday cruise, his silver tuxedo, everything that used to shine? What was the mystery at sea, Barbie? Where are your secret jewels now? Did you pawn them for a pack of your own smokes? Did you know better than we did all along? For what it’s worth, we’re sorry—about your sleeping bag and your microwave and the beauty parlor that’s still sinking. About your nakedness now. We can only hope you’re warm enough on the tiny shirts we used to wear that no one could throw away, on the pillow of baby socks Meadow Muffin folded once when Mr. Poodle still called her by that name, each of them in love with the dream of us, or was it the dream of dreaming? Those dads aren’t deadbeats, though, not really—the hard-scrabbles who board you in boxes we keep bringing to them, if only because we don’t know where else to take them anymore, our mother’s homes foreclosed. That’s just something people say. Really, there was no way they could have seen all that water coming—even as Gods of it—or the flames that would follow. They weren’t Thunderbirds. Those men didn’t know what tree would be the last they’d chop down, or that the angel they put atop it would drown—just the weight of the axes on their shoulders, just the promise of tinder, just the dents on pages we’d made with some Bic pen they’d handed us, just the movies they made of us orbiting them, as though the light was better than it was, as though we knew what we were doing, as through you, too, might help to hold our world together.

We don’t envy that we are their salvation now.

S.J. Dunning currently lives in Tacoma, Washington, where she teaches Creative Writing, Composition, and Technical Writing online and is Co-Editor and Nonfiction Editor for 5×5 Literary Magazine. Prior work of hers has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, Flyway, YES! Magazine, and elsewhere.