MEGHAN MALACHI

Title: Juanita

Poem: Juanita shouts I’m summa time fine! on the first day of summer, and it never gets old. Juanita’s
skin is kept smooth and dewy by African black soap and two pumps of baby oil, devoutly.
Juanita gets chesnut box braids with a splash of blond because she just got paid. Juanita laughs at
her own jokes, and she laughs for too long. Juanita says her life is a vacation cause she’s going
home to God soon. Soon can mean tomorrow or in ninety years. Juanita is a vegetarian most of
the time. Juanita hasn’t drunk Coke in over ten years. When a tortilla chip is pushed out of the
complimentary basket and lands on the table, Juanita picks it up and eats it. Juanita talks a lot.
Juanita knows she talks a lot. Juanita has curved, wide hips that never learned a rhythm or a beat
but swing a hula hoop for 5 minutes straight, naturally and unrivaled. Juanita wants to live.
Juanita doesn’t know how to use finna correctly. I’m gonna finna do that. When I wear my
natural hair, Juanita doesn’t tell me I look prettier. She tells me I look the way I’m supposed to.
Juanita wonders if Sandra Bland liked to eat cake on the first day of summer. Juanita buys us a
tiny cake on the first day of summer. The back of Juanita’s neck glistens, damp with sweat.
Juanita hushes flirting boys when she has something to say. She tells me the thoughts that
unhitch themselves from the backcloth of her mind. The way lightskin boys hold their chins in
group photos. The lyrics of that one Three 6 Mafia song she finally remembers. You know it’s
hard out here for a pimp!* Juanita always asks for guy advice, though she never takes it. She did
hair back in high school, so Juanita holds the hair blower at its tip, immune to scorched air.
White people tell Juanita she’s not ghetto, just innovative. Juanita wonders why both can’t be
true. The day after a fight, Juanita greets me with guilty dimples and an upchuck of neglected
secrets. Juanita scratches my back to help me fall asleep and lets the fan keep in my direction all
night. When I give Juanita a kiss on the forehead, she looks at me like I had birthed her. The dull,
clear wall of ordinary friendship collapses between us, and Juanita says we’re family. She makes
me promise. Juanita lets me know my vomit doesn’t smell. Juanita tells me I eat a cookie like it’s
a freakin’ sandwich. Damn. Juanita braids my hair. Juanita lays peppermint oil on my tender
scalp and massages every itch into submission. Juanita makes simple dishes—fried plantains,
grilled cheese with swiss—and dresses them in beautiful words like palette and savory. Juanita
comes with me to mass and sings off-beat and loud, insisting on tight hugs while the people
around us throw two fingers up at their mothers and children. Juanita says we believe in different
versions of the same God. I tell her I am better for it. Juanita leans her ear in towards my mouth
to hear me sing, like a mother does when her child speaks up for the very first time. Juanita says
the real first day of summer is when the multi-legged bugs return to your ceiling, mysteriously
and right on time. Juanita braids my hair. She rips out the root and sews the seed at the same
time.
*Lyrics are from “Hard Out Here for a Pimp” by Three 6 Mafia and Paula Campbell.

Meghan Malachi is a data analyst and poet from the Bronx, NY. Her work is published or forthcoming in Fresh Air Poetry, Milly Magazine, Hispanecdotes, giallo lit, Writers With Attitude, and The Honey Mag. She lives in Chicago, Illinois. 

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