The Barbie Revolutionaries

by Bill Meissner

In 1992, an activist group broke into the Mattel factory and
“switched the voice boxes of 300 Barbie Dolls and GI Joes”
–Boston Phoenix
[4/12/10 poems 2005]

How do you feel, Teen Talk Barbie, now that you can say
“Let’s go get em!” instead of “Math is hard?”
Do your slim arms and spindle legs feel
stronger and steroid-enhanced? Do you feel like you could punch
your way out of the clear showcase of your box?
Do you have the unexplainable urge to organize a commando raid
on the factories of American Girl dolls, to destroy them
before they reach the end of the assembly lines?

Equal rights, Barbie: now you can aim an M-16 at the enemy, too.
When the five-year-old girls in pink My Little Pony t-shirts
see you spring out of the box with that
black and green camouflage paint on your face,
how loud will they scream?
And what will their confused fathers say, staring at your anatomically
perfect body sheathed in a scanty dress,
when their daughters pull the voice box string and you growl:
“Dead men tell no lies!”

And Joe, does it puzzle you,
inside your explosion-bright cardboard barracks, why you suddenly
think about slipping on pink fatigues? Or when you picture yourself
browsing through a rack of prom dresses?
Do you feel your testosterone-starved triceps begin to sag?
Stacked with your platoon on the factory shelves,
you used to dream of bullets and blood,
but now it’s only lipstick cases and rouge.

Joe, you’ll permanently scar the little boys in Zubas
poised in back yard forts with plastic guns and mini-grenade launchers
when you command: “I like to go shopping with you!”

Barbie and Joe, how far will your voices carry?
In the next decades, there’ll be Baywatch Barbie, Malibu Barbie,
Lingerie Barbie, Astronaut Barbie, and if you study really really hard,
maybe even Math Barbie, but probably not Lady GaGa Barbie.
And Joe, for you there’ll be Desert Storm and Operation Iraq—
you’ve got plenty of fight left in your always-clenched fists.
You’ll have smart bombs and night vision: a whole new terror
waiting out there for you to destroy.

But until then, Barbie and Joe, you just lie
behind cellophane windows
until the tiny urgent hands, desperate for your model,
open the flaps and lift you out.
Then you’ll smile at them with pre-formed plastic lips,
just waiting for them to pull the string on all that silence.

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Bill Meissner’s first novel, SPIRITS IN THE GRASS, about a small town ballplayer who finds the remains of an ancient Native American burial ground on a baseball field, was published in 2008 by the University of Notre Dame Press and won the Midwest Book Award. The book is available as an ebook from the UND Press. Meissner’s two books of short stories are THE ROAD TO COSMOS, [University of Notre Dame Press, 2006] and HITTING INTO THE WIND [Random House/SMU Press, Dzanc Books ebook].

Meissner has also published four books of poems: AMERICAN COMPASS, [U. of Notre Dame Press], LEARNING TO BREATHE UNDERWATER and THE SLEEPWALKER’S SON [both from Ohio U. Press], and TWIN SONS OF DIFFERENT MIRRORS [Milkweed Editions].

He is director of creative writing at St. CloudStateUniversity in Minnesota. His web page is: http://web.stcloudstate.edu/wjmeissner/

His Facebook author page is:

Three of Meissner’s poems and a trailer for SPIRITS IN THE GRASS are on youtube, accompanied by images and music.

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photo by Angela M Campbell

(Editor’s note – When we last presented some of Bill’s poetry, we illustrated it with this photo. By coincidence, he had been working on a new collection, which includes The Barbie Revolutionaries, and here it is. It only seemed appropriate to reuse this photo.)