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On Barbie’s Departure

by Jean Armstrong

It is time for Barbie
to go to boarding school.

And so to the shopping—
for trunks and clothes racks
and bedspreads and pillows
and for all the clothes
to put in the trunk.

This morning it was
argyle socks,
bikini underpants,
demi-slips, and bras
she barely needs.

Once, years ago, my friend,
Charlotte Cooper,
in a peculiar moment,
returned from the hockey field,
gathered her dirty underwear
into a large white bag
and shot the whole thing
down the garbage chute
like a sailor’s corpse.

The decision to die
at her own hands,
was, she said,
entirely acceptable,
except for the thought
of her soiled clothes
left to the inspection
of friends, housemothers,
parents, and the police.

Somewhere, my friend
continues to live on land,
and I, watching Barbie
pack her trunk,
am a survivor also.

How can she know
what her footlocker
seems to me? An
aluminum version
of Queequeg’s coffin,
lifesaver, risen to save me
with the knowledge that
all searches for truth
continue in debts
we keep distributing,
in adventures passed on,

in the lonely, peculiar
moments to which
we are sending Barbie.


Jean Armstrong teaches at Rutgers in Newark. (Spring 1975)

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