Jennifer Maritza McCauley is a writer, teacher and Ph.D. candidate in creative writing at the University of Missouri. Also an editorial assistant at The Missouri Review, a reviews editor at Fjords Review and an associate editor of Origins Literary Journal. Her most recent work appears or is forthcoming in editions ofThe Los Angeles Review, Jabberwock Review, Split this Rock’s “Poem of the Week,” Puerto del Sol, The Feminist Wire, New Delta Review, Rain Taxi, The Boiler, and Literary Orphans, among other outlets.
40 Ways to Avoid Sexual Assault
1. Be alone, so you’ll never have dangerous company.
2. Don’t be alone, you need muscled protection.
3. Bring a man with you, women-friends attract suitors.
4. Don’t bring any guy, just a boyfriend or male-pal.
5. Check: is your boyfriend angry?
6. Check: does your friend like you?
7. Don’t look around, at anyone. Slap on sunglasses.
8. Don’t put on sunglasses, men will want to fuck you.
9. Get very fat.
10. Don’t get too fat, guys like fleshy girls.
11. Get thin. Be light-bodied so you can run fast.
12. Don’t be too-thin, guys like twiggy legs.
13. Don’t be tall either, you’ll be easily seen.
14. Be leggy and long, you can spot the bad ones below you.
15. Be small and bird-like, you’ll be quickly forgotten.
16. Don’t be too little, someone might snatch you,
take you away.
17. Stay close to your uncles and fathers.
18. Check: Are your uncles and fathers kind?
19. Stay close to your mother.
20. Be careful of your mother, she might have a blind spot
when it comes to you.
21. Don’t go to parties.
22. Don’t go to parties.
23. Don’t drink.
24. Never drink.
25. Go shopping, that’s where ladies act like ladies.
26. Don’t go shopping, you might choose slutty clothes.
27. Go to school, you’ll become an emasculating mate.
28. Don’t go to school, that’s where men groom you for love.
29. Avoid sidewalks, all the savages live there.
30. Drive everywhere you go, wherever that may be.
31. Don’t drive anywhere, you might get followed.
32. Don’t leave your house. Always be there, alone.
33. Never be in your house alone, someone will break in, steal
34. Be ready.
35. Be innocent.
36. Be wise.
37. Find a large blanket. Make sure it is thick, wooly and wide.
38. Throw it on your body, the whole thing, nothing should be shown.
39. Hush, now. Disappear.
40. Repeat #39, until free.
The Summer of Screens
Mami is in the kitchen pointing
at the news and yelling Puerto Rican
fuego-style at the announcer. She
says: what does it matter if someone says what
they know if you know they don’t care?
It is summer and I am in Thibodaux, alone.
An old friend calls me from Georgia
and her voice is red. She cries about
lost love and her new life becomes my fault.
I hear how mad she is and it makes me mad,
just hearing the heat bake in her mouth
hundreds of miles away.
She proposes, after our voices have gotten high,
that perhaps our friendship is pure and real, and
this is why we are talking mean. She suggests
that the reason people yell is because they want to be
understood and, in love, you always want
your Other to feel as if she knows you, as if
you are deeply known.
She thinks this is why people screech at each other:
because they want to be understood, or known, and if
not known, remembered.
On television, a Democrat is slapping his hands
together and yelling nonono, and a Republican is hollering
thatsnottruenottruenottrue. They cannot see each other
but they can hear each other’s bawdy voices. Us tv-watchers
can see their faces clearly, how their cheeks
pinken and blue.
There is a moment when the Democrat and Republican
both say something about love,
about loving America fierce,
but I almost missed it,
because it was tucked underneath spirals of hot note
and stinging sound.
On YouTube, Beyonce has tied up that
blonde weave we’ve been seeing for years
into tight braids that look like shadowed cornfields,
shining against her expensive scalp. She
is twitch-dancing, her soft-hard legs jerking
to the sound of pop and power, a beat
rehearsed to make us shout “yeah, girl, please!”
Beyonce isn’t wearing white and she’s not
having fun anymore she wants you to know she won’t
have as much white fun. On YouTube, she glowers
at me and descends into Katrina-water, while sitting
on top of a copcar she bought for this video.
In another video, Donald Trump calls my graduate school
by name and says it is full of little black people with little
white leaders, and he looks me in my eye and reminds me
I am one of the little black people he hates.
I click on Beyonce’s video again because I know this dark
rich woman, in a game of theoreticals, loves me
far more than Donald Trump.
When I realize this, Beyonce is no longer glowering at me,
she’s saying, “girl, we got this, I’m with you,” and she is
glistening fine and smooth. Her royal black skin could be mine
but it isn’t.
Her skin: as shiny as a money-coin.
When she sings ladiesgetinformation I start crying
and don’t know why, because I know this is
a video and she has purchased all of our culture’s
chilling symbols and will go back to a queen-home
I will never see. But when I see her skin like this: suddenly black
and toughly smooth on my small computer, she reminds me of who
I am. This summer I could be one of those Bey-lovin’ blackfolks
worshipping my be-weaved goddess from the backrow of
a concert that costs half my rent. Maybe, before I go back to
my busted Ford1, me and other blackgirls and boys might get lucky
enough to pass her security guards, to walk around the concert
copcars she owns, that we could never buy
for protection. I still, desperately,
want to getinformation.
I click off the video,
when she sings:
SLAY SLAY SLAY
SLAY SLAY SLAY
I’m back home up North and a rich blackgirl
I sort-of remember from my not-rich college, sees my skin
and asks me how many times I’m gonna use a black lives hashtag
today like she is asking me if I believe Jesusismy
personalsavior. I tell her, politely, I’ve used the hashtag
a bunch of times, and I’ve been out in these streets with
with big ass signs since Trayvon and I’ve been a nigger since
I was childborn and been a nigger since. I show her the
receipts of my Black Protest Participation and Black Graduate
Education, and she does not remember me
but decides to like me, then.
She invites me to something she is leading but I’m already walking
to another black thing that doesn’t make black folks
feel heathen-like, like Jesus is not their personal savior.
I think about turning around and telling her, I’m doing more
than a hashtag and this is not as simple as inviting
Jesus into your life as your personal savior, Jesus will not
rescue you in one moment, he will take his bloody
time to save you good and none of the whitefolks
you yelling at are gonna change their lives because
of how many times I use that hashtag.
I don’t say anything because she and I are sewn by spirit
and skin. She and I know what it feels like to
see your brother’s jaw smashed against a copcar hood or
to get pulled over on the way to your to-do ‘hood
because a cop doesn’t believe you live in a good place
and he gives you a $100 ticket for an air freshener because
he doesn’t know what to charge you for, so he reaches in
and smells the plastic bags of trash in your car and says
girls like you hide drugs and don’t live in good places,
so you watch him smell your trash.
She knows what we feel all feel like.
What black folk don’t?
Why would I condemn her when Trump
is alive and trumpin’?
How much wokeness will cure memory?
But I should be
I remember her, then:
she is the same person who came up to me six years ago
talking about sororities, with yellow weave, long, lush
and crackling with power. She told me your kinky hair
need to get laid, you got that whitegirl ass. She’s the same girl
who said that Chinese boy you with is whack,
you gotta drop him for a Mandigo
Now, I answer the question sweetly and leave soft,
as if I’m saying Jesus has always been my personal savior,
as if I’m in the South and telling her God bless you, as if
I have to teach the choir, instead of preach to it,
as if I have to explain to a narrow-eyed Christian
why Jesus really is my personal savior. But I’m
Why do I have to explain
anything to my own choir?
In Memphis, I watch Alton Sterling
and Philando Castille die on my computer screen
because this is the kind of age I am
aging in. When I was a kid it’d take six hours
to download a bootleg episode of Rurouni
Kenshin on Real Player, when I was a kid
if some blackman died nobody remembered it, unless
he’d killed someone special or raped someone
in Wilkinsburg and maybe you’d get that two
minute clip of his dusty, wild-eyed mugshot and
he wouldn’t get a name, he’d just be Wilkinsburg
Man Who Killed [Somebody] Then Killed Himself, and we knew
they were saying Man, but they’d say it with a slant, so we’d know
Wilkinsburg Man was somebody called Rashad or Trey,
and he looked like our black boyfriends,
who were good-hearted and preachers’ sons
and still dodging cops. We’d know all the white folks
would think Wilkinsburg Man could be every
And we’d forget Wilkinsburg Man if he weren’t famous,
because the news forgot about him halfway
through the story they were telling that was mostly
about how it was his fault.
Now, if I want to, I can watch a real blackman die on my shitty
Asus, I can watch a man heave and clutch his chest while the girl
who loves him watches and keeps the focus on his lovely, dying
face. This is the new digital age I live in, and I think,
now, haven’t we come to some kind
I watch a man who looks like my little brother gasp for life
and I watch his dark body lose a battle against itself.
I am watching this, alone, in the Southest of Souths.
A white friend from Canada sends the video to me in an email,
as if I haven’t seen it.
He writes, guilelessly:
“Whoa. What do you think about this?”