Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature

Adrie Kusserow: Breathe With Me Barbie

Sudanese refugee girls, Burlington, VT

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 Kusserow is 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.

2 comments on “Adrie Kusserow: Breathe With Me Barbie

  1. Sharon Lamb
    May 27, 2021

    Adrie Kusserow’s poems, have, like Barbie, 15+ joints. I’m dizzy with the connections and comparisons.I want to continue to pick at this one

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Barbara Huntington
    May 26, 2021

    I’m not sure how I feel about this. I didn’t know Barbie had “evolved.” Sad for two cultures at once? Wondering how the scientist becomes part of the study? Feeling for a woman who just wants to make kids happy? Is the imposition of one culture on another “natural” evolution? A good poem evokes thoughts and/or emotion. Here I am eith this poem.

    Liked by 1 person

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