Back in my college days when I was discovering non-traditional viewpoints on so many levels, I was transfixed by a poem by Marge Piercy. Up until that point, my exposure to poetry and my love for it had been limited to verse that was melodic or nature-based or romantic.
But this, this was real, baby. This was the stuff of societal norms and judgment and inadequacy taken to a completely different place. It jarred me and opened me, as a soulful thinker and a writer. I quickly became obsessed with Piercy, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, so tortured and smart in ways that were uniquely female.
Years after leaving college, I came across the poem in a book that now sits on my shelf called Mondo Barbie (see image), an anthology of fiction and poetry about Barbie. Rest assured, it’s not the typical sentimental stuff of “traditional” childhood, but a darker, deeper sampling of art nicely laid out on pink pages.
So today, Marge Piercy’s birthday, this poem came to mind for the first time in a long, long time:
This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.
She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.