“I liked your Barbie poem last night,” says my friend and fellow poet, Chris, on the phone last Monday, after I’d delivered a new poem Sunday night at The Drank Idiom Slam competition in Rochester. This was a meeting of the past winners to compete against one another for an overall champion. I won—but I tell you, there are some very gifted poets in Rochester. It was anybody’s game.ONOAF

I wrote Barbie after my Sunday School class walloped the doll for her too-perfect features. I understand what they’re saying—I do. But I understand it from an adult perspective. I also know the wondrous imagination of these 2nd and 3rd graders, and I remember acting out fantastic plotlines with my sister and our Barbie dolls, way back in the ‘80s when we were free to play and no one cared what Barbie’s measurements were.

My sister and I waged great battles over the Barbie Mansion, between the “good” new Mansion Barbies and the “bad” falling-apart-bad-haircut gang Barbies. I wrote about the battles and the life lessons we learned, which were too powerful to us to be curtailed by Barbie’s measurements.

“I had no idea,” I tell Chris, “How much the crowd was going to latch on to Barbie. I’m getting Facebook messages from poets saying they’re going through their attics for old toys.”

“What did you call the leader of the rabble Barbie gang?” he asks.

“Winker,” I tell him. “She was my sister’s Barbie who would wink at you. But my sister gave Winker a bad haircut, so she went rogue with the other outcast Barbies. She was the roughest looking, though, so she was the leader.”

And I tell him how I think we all start out in life, regardless of status, as a Mansion Barbie. We’re new, shiny, and pristine. But with any amount of living, we get dirty, messy, we get ratty-hair, we get our hearts stomped on and we get our own battle scars. So we leave the Mansion and we join Winker, because Winker takes everybody and doesn’t think of anyone as damaged goods. And we learn all the things we were missing.

Chris takes it a mind-boggling step further, and says, “I think people like the poem because it’s universal. Everybody has a Winker in their life.”

He explains, “We all have that person who doesn’t quite fit in, dresses funny, and says the wrong thing. But, when the chips are down, Winker is the one who helps you out. Winker will be the only one to show up to help you move or will tell off someone who has been giving you trouble.“

(Wow. This is what happens when two poets discuss Winker Barbie, or just about anything.) Very nicely put, Chris.

To all the Winkers of the world: Thank you for welcoming the rabble, without any hesitation, and for turning us into a family.

To hear more from the talented Chris Atwood, stop in at C4’s Creative Salon tonight for Bobby Marinez’ One Night of Art Finale. Chris will be reading from his new work, and he’s also agreed to be my stunt double and read some of my pieces for me. (If they’re well-written, I don’t have to be the one to read the pieces, right?) So while I’m at work tonight, pop over to the show to see my Number One choice for reading my work, the natural storyteller, Chris Atwood.

Joining Chris on stage will be local phenoms Danny Solis, Sophie Marie, and Dave van Eijl. (Yes, Danny, we claim you as local now.) Doors open at 6. Poetry starts at 7. Music at 8. Art abounds.

Upside Down Kingdom is available on Amazon.

Barbie is a product of Mattel, Inc.