Afro Latinx Poetry Issue – Jennifer Maritza McCauley

Jennifer Maritza McCauley


Because Tigers Never Change Their Stripes

I don’t know what to tell you. Sure,
I can get better at love.

Can water down my nasty,
warm up my shivery, can
sugar-stamp my sour

but I can’t switch my skin,
how it spreads on bones
or catches color.

This life always gonna be black.

Dark as maví, tarred with
past; nose always gonna puff,
hair always gonna be crinkly after
wash, body always gonna be
grand-sized, mouth always gonna be picante
after turning

Daddy always gonna have said
fight ’til old roots branch out
blooming, Mami always gonna
have cried
mucha casera enferma, get
out the damn house and move.

I don’t know what the world
gonna tell me to change today.

How they’ll call our cultures
baby-boned, how they’ll tell us
we’re mewling about corpse problems
who knows how they’ll foam and caw.

But I ain’t letting their spit
stain this not-changing skin.

See: I grow what I should.
Parts that got you shook: Naw.
This mouth always gonna be full-open,
this trap
a black hole.

This dark life
always gonna be here,
howling so loud sound
somethin’ like


In Daddy’s House

Don’t worry,
I’ll teach you how
to talk.

Don’t suck your teeth
for nothing.

Pick your times to tussle,
let your anger be choice.
Babygirl, if you cuss,
make sure that blackmouth

On all days,
fit your face tight.
Keep the mouth pulled
high. When sweet folks
come ’round, do good.
Go silent for those who do
you mean, unless the stink
of injustice gets too foggy,
fat or foul, if it gets
’til you can’t smell nothing
but sin, then, babygirl,
you tussle.

On normal days, stay even.
Toughen the eyes.
No slippage from the
eye-ducts, forget all your crooked,
leaking scars.

Remember the price of showing
hurt, so then: don’t hurt.
Never show them your hurt-twisted face.
So then: Smile. Nod
twice. Get ready.

Remember your woman-body.
Remember your damn

And if life gets too nasty,
if you can’t remember
how to act cool, girl,
imagine your insides
are a long blue sky
flustered with happy cloud.
Imagine your arms are flapping
and you’re flying soft,
tell yourself you’re

Imagine the wind
is sugar-tasting and sounds
like me or your Mami singing
love, imagine you are floating
in that little inside-place that is
only owned by you. Stay in that
inside-place while all the rest are

Stay there, thinking about blue, even
while folks snatch your shoulders,
shake you back to pain, you stay
there, even if your whole life
is screaming.

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