Portrait of Britney Spears,
Kentwood, Louisiana, 1996

by RACHEL RICHARDSON

From the first it was Let’s pretend and the game had a beat behind it, sinewy and breathing. She belted praises in the Baptist choir. The Latin boys at the Quick Stop watched her walk, and her math teacher leaned close to her desk, examining her proof. She smelled like watermelons, blushed when they voted her prettiest in school. And Britney in the bathroom: oh the girls crowded her even while she glossed her lips. The agent told her mother she’d be a symbol of the New South, and took her to a dogtrot house for the shoot. She’d brought her own pink halter, whose ties she knew brushed her bare skin when she moved. She understood his vision right away: she should grasp the whitewashed column like a pole, hold it like she’d never left her home. He said Just pretend you’re a prisoner, or a slave, yes, yes, and keep your eyes right here.

RACHEL RICHARDSON’s poems have appeared in the New England Review, Southern Review, Slate, Ninth Letter, Memorious, Shenandoah, and elsewhere. A recent Stegner Fellow, she has led poetry workshops in prisons, elementary schools, and universities, and currently teaches at UNC Chapel Hill.

“Portrait of Britney Spears, Kentwood, Louisiana, 1996” was originally published by Southern Review in Volume 44, Number 2, Spring 2008.