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.