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Tuesday, September 27, 2005


by Donna Hilbert

The only real fighting Barbie had ever done was at the Barney's tent sale at the Santa Monica Airport, where a quick stomp of her Manolo Blahnik heel into the unsuspecting toe of any opponent would clear her path. The corporate Biggies had promised it would only be a few weekends a year and it would be like going to camp. They said she owed it to the working-class girls who could never hope to grow up to be princesses or ballerinas, or even nurses. Give the girls hope! Hope that they too could escape from West Virginia, or big city ghettos, see the world, and then go to college on Uncle Sam. Those corporate guys knew how to push Barbie's buttons, she was overly sensitive to innuendo that she was not a good role model, and in fact had no heart. But, what clinched the deal for her was the promise of new accessories--the rifle she could carry over her shoulder like the yoga mat in its matching bag that she carried to class on alternate mornings. And the tank--they said she could drive it herself-an armored version of the Hummer Ken drives around town. She held out for days demanding pink fatigues, but the Biggies said that would compromise her safety. The word safety should have served as a warning.

She never actually expected to go overseas, but the Biggies said she was needed, was in fact obligated, to go after the Big Accessories: W.M.D's. It took some getting used to, seeing herself in olive-green drab. The Meals Ready to Eat took a toll on her waistline, and the constant sand blowing pitted her complexion. For the first time in her life, Barbie felt depressed. Not even the hard-bodied G.I. Joes excited her. The local people were not happy to see her and acted as if they didn't know she was America's sweetheart, role model, goddess, real doll. She couldn't figure out what she was supposed to be doing. The other soldiers didn't want to talk about her specialties: wardrobe, hairstyle or the accessories she'd left back at home. They all worried that they wouldn't have homes or jobs to return to. And they worried about their kids. Would the ex-husband get custody? And injuries were not like what she was used to. At home when arms or legs came off, her handler used rubber bands to re-attach them. Barbie once had her head yanked off and flushed down the toilet. Her handler got her a new one from a box of spare parts. But here, blood spills like punch at a picnic and bodies are not so easily fixed.

Surprise! No Big Accessories! Barbie longs to go home, but her tour's been extended. Though any form of reflection not including a mirror, is hard for her, she's come to suspect the Biggies have lied. Though her head is just plastic, Barbie's smart enough to know Iraq is no place for a doll.

Donna Hilbert's latest poetry collection is Traveler in Paradise: New And Selected Poems, Pearl Editions 2004. Her work is the subject of the short film, "Grief Becomes Me," by award-winning filmmaker Christine Fugate, which will appear at the Los Angeles International Short Film Festival in September 2005.