I once saw Jazell Barbie Royale
Do Whitney Houston so well
I got upset with myself for sneaking
Past the cashier
After having been patted down. Security frisks you
For nothing. They don’t believe in trouble. They don’t
Imagine a gun or a blade, though
Sometimes they make you walk all the way back
To the car with the weed you didn’t tuck well.
No one’s at fault. That’s how they say it
Where I’m from. Everyone’s got a job.
I should have paid. Our women
Need to perform for the tips they couldn’t earn
After the state shut down for good reason
And too late. We lost so many friends.
My buddy Janir swears
He still can’t smell his lip balm. Our women need us
To call them beautiful
Because they are. They’ve done what they must
To prove it, and how often does any woman get
To hear the truth? Jazell is so pretty.
Whitney Houston is dead. No one wore a mask.
It wasn’t safe, so it wasn’t really free.
If you don’t watch me, I’ll get by you. I’ll take
What I’ve been missing. My mother says
That’s not how she raised me. I spent
A year and a half sure she’d die.
The women who lip sync for us could die.
People like to murder them,
And almost everyone else wonders
If they should be dead. Who got dressed looking
For safety today? Who got patted down? My mother
Says what we do is sin. But all we do
Is party. Even when I’m broke, I can
Entertain. You’re going to miss me some day.
You’re going to forget the words to your favorite song.
You’re going to miss me when I’m gone.
Copyright © 2021 by Jericho Brown. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on December 27, 2021, by the Academy of American Poets.