Kelly Zen-Yie Tsai
Letter to Lauryn Hill


who could say that
they ever truly knew you

spun your CD
so many times
that it skipped
before the player

packed you up
in so many cardboard boxes
from old crib to
new crib and back to
mama’s house

spent so many nights
laid out on the floor

tears streaming down
the side of the face

mouthing the words
to “that thing”

in solitude

we who saw you
lean back
in the movie theater
with your perfect

slinging popcorn over
the hard backs of chairs

crooning Roberta Flack
for a new generation

of sistas who get
that we are fit
to be on our own

so we carry the burdens
of beauty, of brains, of brawn,

and the myth
of our own protection

things our own mothers
could never teach us

and lauryn, you
taught us well

a girl-child yourself
lacing suffering and
licorice and fisticuffs
striping them in your songs

like scars we pinched proudly
to show off how we survived
and kept our flow, our mojo,
and our pride

but who could say that
they ever truly knew you

but heard your
smoked honey voice
stream from between
the corny beats of
that choir in sister act 2

or sandwiched between
wyclef and pras when
hunger was still a part
of their vocabularies

yet, all throughout this
world, who could ever say
that they truly knew you

so 15,000 of your disciples
lined up at Wingate Park to see
if you, our mashed-up messiah,
had come back, rolled out of the
right side of her bed, returned
on the right side of her head,

if our girl had woken up
from the dream in a world
muddled by the nightmares 
of tens of thousands
of troubled mc’s

we are greedy for
your gifts, screaming
for them like Romans
around the tiger pit

because we’ve got
to hear
your songs