Poem-a-Day - "Vaccinated" by Jericho Brown

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December 27, 2021 

Vaccinated

Jericho Brown

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.

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“The first time I went out after having been vaccinated, I saw the first Black Miss International Queen perform at a show full of some of my favorite drag and transgender entertainers here in Atlanta. I also realized just how much I need social interaction (and social reinforcement from queer people in particular) in order to write anything at all.”
Jericho Brown

Jericho Brown is the author of The Tradition (Copper Canyon Press, 2019), winner of the 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. The recipient of awards and fellowships from the Whiting Foundation, Guggenheim Foundation, and National Endowment for the Arts, he is the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University in Atlanta, where he lives.

The Tradition
(Copper Canyon Press, 2019)

“Dressing Down” by Kamilah Aisha Moon
read more
“The King Is Dead, Long Live the King” by Julian Randall
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Thanks to Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic (Graywolf Press, 2019), who curated Poem-a-Day for this month’s weekdays. Read a Q&A about Kaminsky’s curatorial approach and find out more about our guest editors for the year
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