Jo Güstin :: “Letter to Rihanna”

My dearest Rihanna,
It is me,
And 3 AM in Montreal.
I am writing to you in English because I am not sure at this point, that you would pardon my French
The language of my “je t’aime
And all the words I sang to you
In that bedroom, 
Those other ones,
On the front seat of a U-Haul,
Or when you were in my backpack
While I was riding Ruth Ryders
The old bicycle taking us
All to a place I thought was home.

It never was, I am sorry.
I had to move out all the time
Holding you tight 
Scared and weary,
Kissing your leaves
To give me strength…
The tear stains on my badass shades
Looked like the bars of a prison 
The ones denying you freedom
Not the ones serving you cocktails. 

My dearest dearest Rihanna
Maman suffocates in her guilt
I haven’t seen you in a while,
As weeks and weeks and months go by
I just keep breaking my promise
That “take care” song behind your name
I meant every word, I promise
I’ve never loved so constantly
You’re the one who took care of me

My sweet baby, I feel ashamed
I need a home to be your mom
And I struggle with permanence
In a country so hard to love
Where nobody ever loved me
I thought I’d have found it by now
By the time I turned 35
You wouldn’t be my single child
You’d thrive in a forest of love

You were my practice of caring
For someone other than myself
And of building a family
Some pets, some plants, a wife maybe
I was told you would never die
That’s one thing we had in common
Snake plants are great for a first time
You forgave all my oversights 

Will you forgive me for failing 
At my one job of raising you?
I will forgive you for loving
Your plant-sitter much more than me.
He is the best, I’ll give you that
And the best choice I’ve ever made
He has the home, the plants, the wife,
My vision board? That’s just his life.

When we reunite I will have
A beautiful home of my own
What if I’m sick of “Canada”?
What if I am forever gone?
What if I’ve been gone all this time
Like a phantom in denial?
I’ll have to stop being your mom
I will have to break my own heart.

Are you waiting, my Rihanna?
Are you waiting for my return?
I am in Montreal right now, 
But yesterday it was Berlin and tomorrow, back in Paris,
Then maybe, maybe Wellington.
Don’t you think I am having fun
Being a stranger everywhere!
I’m trying to find the right pot
When there’s no earth for the Black queer


Jo Güstin is an intersectionality artivist who celebrates Black and queer lives using storytelling and comedy. After Cameroon, France, Germany, and Japan, the multilingual novelist behind 9 Histoires lumineuses (2017) and Ah Sissi, il faut souffrir pour être française ! (2019) now lives in Canada, where she shot her debut film Don’t Text Your Ex (2021), created and produced the audio series Contes et légendes du Queeristan (2020), and more recently, the bilingual poetry podcast Make It Like Poetry (2022).