Moments Before Cherry Jubilee Lipsyncs a Phyllis Hyman Classic

Always passionate but tonight Fantasma Gorey,
bobble-headed baddie of The Armstrong,
caught up in sorrow and lost in a song
despite stumbling, fails to remember
each word. (She’s been off all month. I worry.)
Fantasma, heavy-eyed, ends her number
grandly, wig askew. Her earrings hit the floor.

Hear that hoary voice? Her drag mother’s the host.
It’d be an understatement to call Cherry
Jubilee a grand dame: she’s reigned since ‘93.
Keep rolling your eyes. She’s nothing less than
legendary. You haven’t known the holy ghost,
my darling, until you’ve seen her lipsync Phyllis Hyman’s
“No One Can Love You More.”

Operatic, self-possessed, Cherry takes it slow,
plucking tips with her acrylic claw.
Quiet as it’s kept, I bawl.

RainrainrainrainrainrinRespect her.
Sure, she refuses to perform what’s hot—no
Top 40 or glitchy trap, no hyperpop singer’s

ululations—and you won’t catch her in a neoprene
Venom costume, but have you seen Viola Davis emote?
Witnessed a cathedral hold a choir’s held note?

—Extra? Little old me?
You’ll see what I mean.
Zip it. There’s our lady.

Derrick Austin is a Black, queer poet. He is the author of Tenderness (BOA Editions, 2021), winner of the 2020 Isabella Gardner Poetry Award, and Trouble the Water (BOA Editions, 2016). His first chapbook, Black Sand, was recently published by Foundlings Press. He is a 2022-2023 Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholar.