About this Poem 

"One of the many things I love about poetry is how you can give a sense of the complexity of human experience, the interpenetration of different realities in one consciousness. In this poem a high-art excursion is interrupted by a pop art experience, which leads to a meditation on how women’s lives are so much freer now but with regret at the loss of mystery and how important it is to maintain that mystery but without losing the freedom."
—Barbara Hamby

Ode to Lil' Kim in Florence

Barbara Hamby

We’re in a taxi on the way to see Andrea del Sarto’s last supper,
          which was in the country when it was painted
but is now in the suburbs beyond the old city wall in an ex-convent,
          and our driver turns the radio to an English station
playing an American song, yes, Lil’ Kim’s “How Many Licks,”
          and Miss Kim, you are not singing about throwing punches,
but for a while I don’t notice because my husband
          is talking about where we will eat dinner, but like a bullet
the lyrics penetrate the armor of the city, the fresco, the tagliata
          and punterelle I’ll eat later, and I’m crossing my legs twice,
once at the knees and then at the ankles, but what do I know,
          because my dad never threw me out of the house,
and I’ve never lived on the streets, and your life, Kim, is like an opera,
          Lucia di Lammermoor maybe, but you’re not taking Enrico’s shit,
and when Edgardo breaks into your phony wedding you grab him
          and run off to Paris but not before you sing the mad scene,
because what’s Lucia without it, all the blood and tattoos, and you
          could never sing Mimi, because she’s such a simp. No, Musetta’s
your gal, so Lil’ Kim put on your Queen-of-the-Night gown,
          the corset and headpiece with shooting stars, or your Lulu rags,
Jack the Ripper leading her to his knife, or your Lil’ Kim hot pants,
          but remember, Kim, we girls need some secrets while we fix
our lipstick, straighten our push-up bras and little black dresses,
          because we’re riding the lonely streets in taxis, limos,
buses and sports cars, hair a little messy, dying for the night to open up
          dark and mysterious like a song only time can sing.

Copyright © 2013 by Barbara Hamby. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on August 26, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Barbara Hamby

Barbara Hamby is the author of On the Street of Divine Love: New and Selected Poems (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014).

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