Rachel Richardson

Portrait of Britney Spears, Kentwood, 1996

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
“Portrait of Britney Spears, Kentwood, 1996” is from Copperhead (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2011), and first appeared in The Southern Review, spring 2008 (vol 44 no 2).