Every day, the girls, named after the colors of cows,
pour Barbie body parts from the plastic bag,
smudged makeup, ripped miniskirts, broken shoes and botched haircuts
they don’t seem fazed by, strewn
like a pile of prostitutes across the carpet.
Because they’re obsessed with Barbies, never had new ones,
it’s Christmas, and I want them to like me, I leave my cranky capitalist critiques aside
and order one anyway.
Breathe With Me Barbie’s dressed in cozy loungewear,
light blue yoga pants with little white clouds,
sitting cross legged, “Dolly” Lama style,
with 15 new joints for more realistic posing.
She comes in black skin too,
and finally her head isn’t bigger than her hips.
Press her crescent moon necklace
til the cloud on her chest lights up in pretty pastels
and Barbie asks, how are YOU feeling today?Imagine your feelings are fluffy clouds.
Now let’s breathe in and out.
Determined to get it right,
the girls breathe hard as Darth Vader.
Breathe With Me Barbie comes with a puppy, too,
and four emoji clouds:
Love Rainbow, Sad Rain, Happy Sunshine and Grumpy Red.
Press one into puppy’s head to express an emotion,
switch them up to express a NEW feeling all your own!
Once, I asked the girls father,
forehead scarred from his own cattle camp days
how are YOU?
He stared at me confused, mumbling in Dinka, the family is good.
Now he laughs, watches his girls play personalized care
at Mattell’s Barbie Wellness camp
as they mimic mud masks and pedicures,
practice identifying their own pink sparkly feelings
instead of their tribe, or seasons.
It’s clear I’m the only one
feeling this winnowing of self is a Great Loss,
a reverse rite of passage,
the kind practiced in the United States of singular self.
Back in the car, I feel ashamed,
buying the girls affection with a cheap bribe.
Time to go home, to isolation, to the stifling nuclear family
evolution never meant to stay for this long.
I’m late to Zoom yoga class, my unlimited pass
buying as much union as I can pack in one month,
It’s a snowy spring,
I’m desperate for release,
I pick at the tight buds of daffodils
pulling back their brown sheaths,
loosening their casings,
trying to force them to widen, expand.
I vow to myself, next time I will take the girls outside,
let the sun pick at them gently,
let the rain and snow scurry across their skin,
like ants across peonies,
they will open, and Barbie will be forgotten,
and I will be forgiven
for my trespasses, my aching, lonely heart.
Copyright 2021 Adrie Kusserow
Adrie Kusserowis a poet and cultural anthropologist who works with Sudanese refugees in trying to build schools in war-worn South Sudan. Currently an associate professor of Cultural Anthropology at St. Michael’s College in Vermont, Kusserow earned her PhD in Social Anthropology from Harvard University.