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March 2021

I have a new granddaughter and so I now have an excuse to play again with toys. It would be the rare adult who doesn't have at least a few strong emotional attachments to some childhood toys. Although I am a collector of things, I have very few toys from my childhood. There were some that survived to be toys for my two sons - such as my Matchbox cars - but the toys I have the fondest memories of have vanished - a stuffed lamb and dog, my "medical bag" for playing doctor (often on that lamb and dog).

Having your own children or grandchildren is a wonderful excuse to shop in toy stores, buy toys (perhaps ones you want more than the child) and play again.

My favorite toy poem is "Kinky" the title poem from Denise Duhamel's collection Kinky (Orchises Press, 1997). I thought of her poem recently after reading that Mister Potatohead is no longer a "mister." Now he can be Mr., Mrs., Ms. or whatever combination you want. Of course, it's not like kids haven't already playing gender games with this and other toys.

 In Duhamel's poem, Barbie and Ken dolls are brought to life and: 

...decide to exchange heads.
Barbie squeezes the small opening under her chin 
over Ken's bulging neck socket. 

It's not something I didn't see my older sister do with her dolls. It even shows up in the Toy Story film series both as villains who make hybrid dolls and as those hybrids come to life. Duhamel's dolls don't go in the direction of evil but rather to the kinky side.

The two dolls chase each other around the orange Country Camper 
unsure what they'll do when they're within touching distance. 
Ken wants to feel Barbie's toes between his lips, 
take off one of her legs and force his whole arm inside her.

You don't have to tell us (maybe tell your therapist) about any strange fetishes you may have acted out with your dolls or action figures, but this Barbie and Ken (who Duhamel reminds us have "only the vaguest suggestion of genitals") finally get to act out some of their repressed feelings.

Soon Barbie was begging Ken 
to try on her spandex miniskirt. She showed him how 
to pivot as though he was on a runway. Ken begged 
to tie Barbie onto his yellow surfboard and spin her 
on the kitchen table until she grew dizzy. Anything,
anything, they both said to the other's requests,
their mirrored desires bubbling from the most unlikely places.

But our writing prompt this month is not necessarily dolls or anything kinky but rather simply TOYS. What are your memories of them? What is your current connection to them? How did they fuel your young and now adult imagination?


For more on all our prompts and other things poetic, check out the Poets Online blog.


My father called me a Chatty Cathy though it was not my name.
It was because he thought I talked too much - in school and at home.
At Christmas I had received the popular Chatty Cathy doll which my parents
thought was perfect for me though I had asked for Barbie and Ken.
A talking with a string in her back that when pulled said some random phrase.
I would ask her who I would one day marry and she would answer
"I love you"
as if she was to be my only love, or I would ask her why my parents
fight when I go to bed and she would avoid the subject and say
"May I have a cookie?"
Once, I told her I would run away from this place and never come back and she said
"Please take me with you."
That frightened me.
Did she know what I was saying? Were we somehow now connected?
I put her on the doll shelf, face to the wall, and left her there for days.
When I took her down, I said I was sorry, pulled her string and heard
"I hurt myself"
but I knew that it was I who had hurt her.

Lianna Wright


Young little she
Special princess
Glasses girl
Could not see
Gendered world
Snacks face flushed
Toys boy crushes
Playing outdoors
Knees scuffed
Fast healing scars
Doing the splits
For fun
Parents strict
Then lax
Sunday best
Dress-up play
Tennis match
That kid Jeep car
Down to the river
Reverse and then back
Girl scout camps
Drooling over every pet
Later Barbies
When it was too late
Dreaming about
Movie dates
Holding hands
Under stars
One day
Being sixteen
More makeup
Shiny décolleté
Sexy and
The things
She wasn't allowed

Lee Burke González


I asked for it.
An Easy-Bake Oven powered by a light bulb
that safely baked small cakes that were barely edible.
I wanted to do real baking, like my mother.
She was the real-life Suzy Homemaker I wanted to be
and asked for those miniature appliances
and used the blender, iron and popcorn popper,
but I knew this wasn't the real thing
and eventually, like my mother, I didn't want
to cook, do laundry or clean the house.
We both put aside our Suzy sides
and made homes in other ways.

Pamela Milne


Owned many guns
rifles, handguns
and used them daily
shooting windows, targets,
birds, animals,
neighbors and friends
and they shot me
it was our game
with sounds we made
for firing and for hits
bursts, ricochets,
machine gun rapid-fire
that ran from summer
morning to sunset
when we returned home
for supper and our guns
rested until the next day.

Bob Branch


Immediate disappointment.
Twisting two white knobs
Would be less fun than
Watching my box turtle
Trundle along the surface
Of its shoebox home
At the prospect of wilted lettuce.
But after my sisters lost interest in
One knob scribing across the glass,
Its partner, up and down,
They waved Le Télécran like a wand,
Dismissing it to me.
At recess the envied, prodigy pianist
Soon discovered he could transcend its limits
By turning both knobs simultaneously,
Inventing visual improvisations that
Produced as little awe in elementary audiences
As his recitals.
Back home, I made no attempt
At facsimile houses or rocket ships
Or sought comment on my alphabetic derring-do,
Carving secrets onto glass,
Attempting a voice to offset
The flippancy of siblings.

Rob Friedman


I found him in Grandmother’s attic
and knew he was mine. Prancing gunmetal
horse more beautiful than real.
They said he used to carry a rider –
a Civil War general? – atop a clock,
but the clock’s time was past.
Grandmother was dead, Dad had come
to haul his inheritance home in a box-trailer.
I was seven. The horse was mine.
In time, he suffered fractures that would
have meant a bullet if he were alive.
I loved him in spite of faults,
long after I outgrew toy horses, after I sold
my own black mare and went off
to college. Somewhere in storage, he waits
for me to settle; to get rid of whatever
I can bear to lose; to take him in my hands
and stroke his metal flanks,
and dream as I always have, of horses
outrunning time.

Taylor Graham


Some men my age
Still play with Lionel Trains
Others swap Monopoly for Minecraft
Matchbox cars for decked out Silverados

Wives complain, men are
Nothing more than outsized boys
With bigger, more expensive toys

I must confess, there was a time
When I just had to have the latest and
The best of everything

At some point, my toys began to quarrel
Compete for my attention
Disappear when I ignored them
Often bite me, when I tried to reconnect

Lately, I've tried to find
A better home
For these neglected children
Or, when I can't

Stuff them into plastic bags
To be euthanized
At the local Landfill

I still hear their screams
As metal-treaded monsters
Bury them beneath foul smelling garbage

Returning home, I vow
To never buy another toy ... until
I spot the neighbor's brand new table saw
Hear about my sin-in-law's new Nikon

There is no methadone or Narcan
For an old man with an empty attic
And a clean garage

Frank Kelly


It seemed a magic wand to me as a child.
It wrote words and I could draw without ink or paper.
It was plastic - not unlike a screen - and page-sized.
I wrote my name, practiced signatures, drew shapes
and wrote messages to people and used curse words
and then lifted a sheet and they were gone forever.
It was a 1960s social media just for myself. Never shared.
I trusted it with those words. Trusted it would never reveal
and it never did betray my messages to others even if
it was intended for someone to read and maybe somehow
I thought the words would get to them since the slate was magic.
It lost its appeal when I decided that words needed to be preserved
and needed to be be received by others, for better or worse.

Lily Hayashi


I played school on the rug
in the bedroom I shared
with my older sister
who wondered at this game

where marbles large and small,
solid colors and ribbon striped
became the students
lined up in rows.

My sister joked and teased
about my marble kids,
had me say their names
in front of laughing friends.

Mrs. Smith, the biggest one—
white with blue flecks,
and Larry, the tiniest—
solid green.

For class trips to museums,
I’d move the marbles
to a bookcase or table
in our family’s living room.

Mostly I recall the day
my mother raged—
rampaged through the house
then grabbed the marble bag—

flung it out a window
from the second floor.
I watched in horror,
marbles strewn below

in grass, on gravel, under laundry lines—
sunlight sparkling off the scattered chips.

Norma Ketzis Bernstock


My Matchbox cars and trucks were set aside when Hot Wheels appeared.
1968 and all my friends loved cars and all of us years from being able to drive.
I owned a Porsche, Mercedes, Rolls Royce Matchbox and treated them kindly.
My Hot Wheels were American muscle Camaro, Corvette, Firebird, Mustang
and we raced them on their tracks and flipped them off into the air,
sending them into loops, oiled axles, added decals, repainted them and did
everything to them that we knew we would never be able to do
to any real car we would ever own. They were poor training for life
or perhaps they were the best training as bad examples are sometimes
the best teachers and my damaged Hot Wheels are worthless while
the pristine Matchbox cars, unraced, stored in boxes, are collectibles
and more valuable now than when I bought them though they have
no memories of driving or racing, no scars of chances taken, no life.

Charles Michaels


And what if everything,
I have ever wanted
or will ever want,
is exactly like
this little wooden thing
that I’d forgotten all about
until now, finding it in a box
of my childhood things
that I’m getting rid of because
I don’t want them anymore--
this little wooden
puppet made of wires, wood
and cloth, with its round head
and innocent, kissable face,
that I wanted so badly, needed
so terribly that I threw a fit
outside the store
and my mother couldn’t
console me, and my father
turned and walked away
from all that foolishness,
all that carrying on,
this little wooden thing
that has found its way back
into my hands now,
so that I hold it up to the light
as if only dimly recognizing
the object of my desire,
smiling to remember it
and shaking my head
the way my father did
when he turned away
from all that foolishness,
all that heartbreak.

Paul Hostovsky


Your constant companion, Teddy-Doo,
He's the one that you're devoted to.
For the first few years, we even had two,
And we rotated the sub on the bench.

Ted-Ted-Ted's got a furry little nose.
Ted-Ted-Ted's got a furry little nose.
Ted-Ted-Ted's got a furry little nose
And he's Your. Best Friend.

He's been left in a car park, spent the night in a tree.
So many adventures, I wonder how it can be
That he survived all this time, now just a little scruffy,
Needing stuffing, sewing, repairs.

Ted-Ted-Ted's got a furry little tail.
Ted-Ted-Ted's got a furry little tail.
Ted-Ted-Ted's got a furry little tail
And he's Your. Best. Friend.

In less that two years, you'll be driving a car!
You're really turning out to be true little star.
Yet when you're in bed, Teddy's never too far,
Often lying on your pillow, by your head.

Ted-Ted-Ted's got furry little ears.
Ted-Ted-Ted's got furry little ears.
Ted-Ted-Ted's got furry little ears
And he's Your. Best. Friend.

He's a big part of our lives, and a big part of yours,
And now he's getting floppy, from his head down to his paws.
I no longer sing about his body parts because
Your biology is now better than mine!

Ted-Ted-Ted is a little old and grey.
And Dad-Dad-Dad is heading the same way.
Ted-Ted-Ted is a little old and grey
And we're Your. Best. Friends.

Robert Best