Jennifer Maritza McCauley

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.

p

p

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?

p

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.

p

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.

p

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.

p

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

everything.

p

34. Be ready.

35. Be innocent.

36. Be wise.

p

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.

p

p

The Summer of Screens

I.

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?

p

II.

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.

p

She thinks this is why people screech at each other:

because they want to be understood, or known, and if

not known, remembered.

p

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. 

p

There is a moment when the Democrat and Republican

both say something about love,

about loving America fierce,

but I almost missed it,

the love-part,

because it was tucked underneath spirals of hot note

and stinging sound.

p

III.

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!”

p

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.

p

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.

p

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.

p

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.

p

I click off the video,

when she sings:

SLAY SLAY SLAY

SLAY SLAY SLAY

p

IV.

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.

p

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.

p

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

better.

p

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

p

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

wondering, still:

p

Why do I have to explain

anything to my own choir?

p

V.

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

blackman, anywhere.

p

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.

p

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

of revolution.

p

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.

p

A white friend from Canada sends the video to me in an email,

as if I haven’t seen it.

p

He writes, guilelessly:

“Whoa. What do you think about this?”

Share This Post!