"Look at Barbie's playhouse!" Megans & Tiffanies cried. "She even has a tiny TV!"


David Alpaugh

David Alpaugh


This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
                                                       —Robert Frost

At Mattel® Toys in Rahway, New Jersey, in 1973,
we built Barbie’s vinyl playhouse by the skidful
to go under your Christmas tree.
We did, my colleagues, and me.

To my left a youth who wanted to kill Whitey;
to my right a Honk-if-you-love-Jesus nut;
straight ahead a Cuban exile someone said
was really built (all I could see was her butt).

The man in the middle was me.

And I was as white as the housewife’s
wash you see every weekday at three;
yes, I was whiter than Moby Dick,
bobbing on an Ahab-angry sea.

Maria snapped in isinglass windows.
Curtis stapled on the roof; Nat, the floor;
Joe College (I) got the thinking man’s
job—attaching the “detachable” door.

Then I’d pass it to the Jehovah’s Witness
who’d wince as she put Babylon in a box;
and off it would go on a conveyor belt
to L.A., Sioux City, or the Bronx—

where America was fabricating dreamgirls
with oohs & aahs beneath a tinselled tree:
”Look at Barbie’s playhouse!” Megans
& Tiffanies cried. “She even has a tiny TV!”

I’ve seen photographs of weary Asians
laying track for the railroad industry.
I’ve seen real Mexicans on their knees
picking lettuce for the A&P.

Many have worked hard for little;
few harder for less than we—
who sweated in worn out jeans and khakis
for a doll who cried APPEARANCE IS ALL.

as the White House began to fall in 1973.

Mr. Siereck Gets a Sense of Humor

There is a sense in which
I can slip my hand
into my side
pull out my liver
and slap it down bleeding
on pink butcher’s paper

to ave atque vale poor Hans Siereck,
laid out last week at a hundred and three
in Plainfield, New Jersey,

gruff, humorless butcher of my childhood,
lord of the long glass casket,
through which housewives viewed chops, cutlets,
legs of lamb, t-bones, kidneys, sweetbreads,

who’d watch in silence each week
as a boy eyed flesh and organs,
compared per-pound prices,
seeking affordable provender
for hungry snapping turtles.

“Please, Mister Siereck,
can I have twenty-five-cents-worth
of your very worst chopped meat?”

And two stores down, on an errand for mother,
“Six hard rolls and a loaf of Jewish rye.”

If I were Jay at Leventhal’s bakery
I’d say, “You don’t have to call our bread
Jewish—just say with seeds. That’s what
your mother means, isn’t it?”

And if I were Hans Siereck, I’d say,“Vy don’t you try 
your own liver? I cut you nize slize.
Snabbing turddles love it
and ist gut for them.”

I’d wipe the dark blood on my apron,
laugh to myself in High German,
and put another quarter in the register.