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Five Poems, by Jennifer Maritza McCauley



I swallow the past, steadying myself against the back of a young birch tree. The past is pulped, palpable; it is large and too-huge to choke down. When I live in the present, I feel newly cleaned and scrubbed by sun. When I face the day brightly, I see the world through baby-eyes; I see freckles of color and rainbowed-light. So what to do?

What I shall do: I shall defy hauntings. I digest the past, in all its spikes; then I will forget it. I will know the past; it has kissed me blithely and squatted in my house; I will feel the wild grip of past and know it still struggles under my skin but I will not see it. It will be in me, but I will not love it. The past: that ghosted hunger; look, I’m going to ignore my appetite.

Oh present, I open my mouth to consume you in full.


Aren’t You Afraid?

If I go down, I’ll go down whistling.
Find me border-busting, singing the meanest songs.

I stopped waiting for any new man. I tramp and burn and tussle.
I soar without stopping.
Your old light dims darker,
But I see perfectly fine.

Yesterday, you asked me, Aren’t you afraid?
Of the truck dipped in night, growing closer,
Of the men who ripple the hills, poised to rush down?

I said, I live in motion—I neither rush nor slumber,
Sure, fear is the trickiest insect, but I already
Swatted him down.



They told me
I’m not fit to stand near their shoes
And I told them
I’m panther-soft,
I move smoothly,
I sit like swan,
I’m rock-heavy, big as boulder.
They told me I’m the sludge they kick laughing.
I said I’m huge, hot and shining,
I’m the road at midnight without wanderer,
I’m the cool when the night feels like blister. They told me, told me, told me,
And I stopped listening.

I tell them I’m the rain that drowns sycamores
And births fertile greens. I tell them
Baby, if you can’t feel my rain, then
You can’t feel a damn thing, and baby I’m sorry (but not sorry) for you.



To root
To stick the firmest parts
Of your body into the heat
Of the earth and see what
Stretches up.

To reach for the lowest
Part of soil and find
Your face there,
Along with the mouths
And minds of misted
To fit your loving body
Into spaces that know
You fresh.

To seek comfort
In the tongues of flowers.

I am still looking for my best
Ghosts under the grass.

I grow, I grow, I grow.


Without Control

Limitations are a scarcity.
I rise, shaking off the broad shackles of control.
I don’t starve next to borders.
I live vibrantly, drenched thick in
Splashing color.
I am not confined to cells or
Shifting undulations.
I walk straight lines easy,
Confirmed in the stride I walk
And you’ll see it!
Damn, even if you don’t,
I embody the next new
And the dark shallows
I bring into me and shiver off.
Here’s the last sorrow:
I don’t sense it lasting.
Here’s the last pain:
I understand it in full

I love swiftly,
And move soft.
I am here, I decide it;
I am here and I remain


Note: These poems are part of Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writers Folio: A Hauntology

  • Jennifer Maritza McCauley is the author of Scar On/Scar Off and When Trying to Return Home. Recipient of an MFA in Creative Writing from Florida International University and a PhD in English (Literature and Creative Writing) from the University of Missouri, McCauley teaches literature and creative writing in the Literature program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake. She received a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in prose, and awards from Best of the Net, Independent Publisher Book Awards, and Academy of American Poets. She is presently a fiction editor at Pleiades.

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