Whitney Houston is dead, found in a hotel bathtub
just before the Grammys
as if she’d just slid down – awake or asleep –
and let the waters claim her.
And the airwaves are full of The Preacher’s Wife
and The Body Guard

and “I Will Always Love You” which I learned
was written by Dolly Parton
– a fact I can’t quite wrap my ear around.
And as Anne watches the funeral
broadcast live from a grand Baptist church
in Newark, I wonder how such talent

can lead to such misery and if the two are related
at all. I mark up some papers,
read the basketball scores, give the cat his pill
and wonder if celebrity
is the greatest drug of all. How else to explain
Reality Show Whitney

dragging her plump preteen daughter into our
living rooms
as she and Bobby camp out, pretending
to have ordinary lives. All
the has-beens and almost-weres on Celebrity Rehab
try to reclaim their lives

or die famous, and how season four ended
with the mother
of an over-dosed rock star forgiving
his drug-addicted rock-star buddy
who watched him die. She said, “You don’t have
to live a fantastic, incredible

celebrity life. You can live a boring predictable life.
And you cannot believe
how rich that is, until you’re in it.” And though
I don’t believe, I understand
religion’s pull to give certainty and dignity
to ordinary life. I understand

celebrity’s lure to make a memorable life in this
all-publicity’s-good-publicity world
world we live in. And that night when Anne
orders the Devil’s Roll and I
the Mango Tango and the Godzilla Roll and eat them
with the chopsticks still attached

because I’m embarrassed to ask for a fork, I watch
the two-year-old at the next table
eat her rice and mimic everything her
four-year-old brother does and the baby
in a high chair two tables down smile and gurgle
at the finely-tweezed college girls

who flirt with him and I wonder if this ­is it – the tang
of the mango with the crunch
of spicy tuna, the wide-cheek-boned smile
of the waitress whose name
I can never remember, the hot tea, the soy sauce
I dip my rolls in,

the crowd in the restaurant that ignores us so we can
eavesdrop and catch snippets
of their lives in quick glances. In a dream last
night I sat across
from a white-haired woman with pearls
and startling blue eyes talking about “the magic

of cities,” how they were “invented by the Puritans
in New England.” I know she’s someone,
but I don’t know who. And though I know
what she says isn’t true, I am infatuated
with her certainty. Even after I wake, I can still see
the textured red of lipstick on her cigarette,

the smoke rising in a lazy curl, her elegant veined
hands dancing as she speaks. Who
doesn’t love a celebrity rising up with a fresh
new story? Who doesn’t shake their heads
when they fall? Who doesn’t sigh and settle back
into the dull safe waters of anonymity?

I wonder if Whitney closed her eyes and slipped
beneath the water
like a child counting to one hundred while
the other children hide,
palms pressed to her face: one one thousand,
two one thousand, three one thousand, four.

Originally published in the Connecticut River Review