Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 1



Michelle Lizet Flores


Florida Gothic #4: No Sleep ‘til JAX

It’s December
             but the trees won’t sleep.

The grass is yellowing
             dry season

The lawn furniture
             moist in 100% humidity.

It’s midnight
             yet
             I-95 is filled with cars northing to somewhere.

You change the radio station
             the same song
             keeps playing
             picking up where
             the last station left off.

You peer through the forests and hedges
             of the interstate
Into backyards of
             empty patios
             lights twinkling and spinning.
             Discos long forgotten.

Fog clings to the open road.
Orbs of light attempt to guide you
             home, but once you reach

The Everglades you are flung into deep space
             reflective bits of plastic acting like stars.
             Intergalactic caution signs
             drawing you home.




Genetics of a Brown Boy

His hair has a metallic glint to it.
             Like the brushed bronze on an Olympic medal.
             Like the back of a rose gold iphone.
             Like the string on a Christmas ornament.

My abuela has hazel eyes.

Did the metal in her eyes get confused?
Did it decide to grow through his follicles instead?

Louie’s hair has specks of red in it.
My hair gets lighter the longer it grows
             The longer I forget to trim the tips.

Lito’s hair is
             The color of a filtered digital postcard.
             The color of pinewood before it’s glossed and polished.
             The color of a penny you forgot you had in the ashtray of your car.


How does a brown boy get light hair?

There’s a story someone forgot to tell.




Imposter Syndrome

Or, how I learned to stop worrying and love myself.

It takes great courage to admit you’ve never truly been good at anything.

To shed all ego and acknowledge the lack of gifted verse.

To look in the mirror and love your blotched skin and bushy, yet patchy brows you can’t ever seem to tame.

 

It takes great courage to acknowledge that the 7 years you’ve spent cultivating young minds has earned you nothing but stress rashes and a jaw that never stops popping.

 

There is no greatness in myself.

Instead,

 

I am

 

the quiet air just before the storm.

 

I am

 

the slick of oil in the puddle glinting in the rising sun.

 

I am

 

the purple moons beneath the mother’s eyes

the tendril curled around her jawline

the crack in the mug on the back of the shelf where the children dare not reach.

 

It takes great courage to embrace one’s ordinariness,

             To know that I am not special,

                          Though I am enough.




Mateo Sings the Blues

After Hurricane Matthew

To call it duende wouldn’t be right.

This was a new death.
             Full of rage.
             Full of cold air.
             Full of salted breath and gusts of tears.

It curls around the Spanish roof tiles
             Slowly flinging them off like a petty woman counting change.

It rakes against the faux stucco walls
             Piercing howls tapping against the front door.

It builds with teach flicker of power, the hum electric of music and light quickly shutting down any hope of moving on.

The leaves, yes, only the leaves are spared.
             They wave and drip and sway and fight.

But still, the world is all green and water.

Power lines like tendrils along the Coin Laundry’s façade.

Lito’s eyes watch God.
He goes outside with his father.

First real hurricane—all is adventure until the trunks break, until I rush them back inside.

With a holler, Mateo shakes our home.

In Florida, the blues are really grey, a new duende.




My abuela was a seamstress.

In memory of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire of 1911

She sewed many things:
             bathing suits, dresses, jackets, buttons.

She too found place in the New York sweatshops
             trading fabrica for factoria,
             lavandería for laundri,
             El Oriente for Brooklyn.

These women.
Their work.

The chains on each door.
The thread in each bobbin.
The prick of each needle.

Did their nietas wonder
why they didn’t make it home
for dinner that night?

Were their lovers waiting
underneath a marquee?

These women
flinging themselves
out of windows,

their blood runs
             in the air
                          in me.




My mother was a racist.

2nd grade.
Book report.
Record yourself as the character in your book.

I said, “Ok.”
I said, “Mami help.”

The book was about a girl
             who was a slave.
She’d learned how to read.
She taught others how to read.
I’d never read anything like that before.

Mami said, “We have to get some makeup.”
Mami said, “Pick something dark brown.”
Mami said, “Hold still. We can’t let your skin show.”

We played out the scene,
             Southern accent sounding foreign on our Miami tongues.

My sister chomped an apple
             while looking for the camera.

I turned the video in.
My teacher said nothing.
No one said anything.
I want to ask her why she did that.
I want to ask her why we had to paint our skin.
I want to ask her
   want to ask her
             to ask her
                  ask her
                         her

The fuck were you thinking.
The fuck were you thinking.
The fuck were you thinking.
The fuck were you thinking.
The fuck were you thinking.

WHAT THE FUCK WERE YOU THINKING.

She’s dead though.

I look at Lito.
I look at Violet.
I look at Louie.
I look at my students.


What will they want to ask me when I’m dead though?




Of Dora and Diego

a.k.a. Brown Boy Living

He cries when the show ends, begging for more of her,

                                                                                              of him.

 

Rather than take his own adventures, he watches theirs.

Run, jump, solve, free

 

Where should a brown boy go?

             When you’re Afro and Cuban while your parents are either.

 

Race doesn’t matter until you’re a child looking for yourself in the stars,

                                                                                                            the earth,

                                                                                                                          a black screen.

 

To be brown, not tan.

Of Memphis and Miami

Blues y duende

 

Mulatto

             Moreno

                          Trigeño

                                       Prieto

 

“Michelle, tiene que mejorar la raza,” Abuela would say

while breading our steaks for dinner.

 

As I watch him read to himself and dig for undiscovered treasures, I know I have.




Running Game at Bardog.

I pour my fat ass
Into this gold and black dress
Then saunter down Main Street,
Homeless Harry praising my thunder thighs as I
Wave at Zdrago, guardian of the drink.

He lets me in with a smile and a cloud of mentholated smoke.
In the basement, Joe mixes my swill, vodka and olive juice with a tobasco finish.
Three glasses later and the room starts to glow.

Mr. Brodown Hoedown tells me I’m half-Asian, which he’s super into.
I role my eyes and scarf a few olives while he orders me a drink,
His blue gingham tucked perfectly into Docker shorts,
brown belt offsetting his Sperry’s.

“You white boys think you know everything don’t you?” I ask.
With a sheepish smile he passes me a shot of fireball.
Before it’s gone he orders two more. I ask,
“What am I getting out of this situation? You’re so lucky to be giving me drinks.”
He tells me how sexy he finds thick girls, that I’m so exotic with my dark eyes and pale skin.
He leaves for the restroom while I check my phone.

The only other brown guy in there looks at me with his, “You fuckin tonight?” stare.
Brodown waits for the restroom.
I tell Brown Guy that my favorite beer is Guinness, that I live two blocks away.
We talk about Miami
how apathetic we both are towards barbeque.

We slip into my apartment,
The Mississippi rolling beneath the bridge to Arkansas.

After undressing him on my futon, I lead him to my room,
window open so the moon can make me glow
while I reveal my olive skin beneath the black and gold.

After fucking, I tell him that he can sleep over, but I’m an all or nothing kind of chick.
He pushes his face into my hair and tells me I smell like cigarettes.

In the morning,
before the light is too bright,
I walk him to my door,
Body wrapped in a Hogwarts blanket,
the one my mother got me for my birthday,
             before she got sick.

He asks to see my body one more time.
I reply, “Only if you’ll tell me your name.”




Why do all interracial relationships involve white people?

When do I get to see a couple that looks like mine?
             Where we mix platanos and collard greens.
             Where we swing our hips to merengue and nod our heads to Memphis trap.

When do I get to see shades of brown falling in love
             With deep almond eyes.
             With the smell of turmeric and curry
                          Coating every curl.
             With ancestral knowledge emanating from every story our full lips tell.

Where are the marriage proposals over dim sum
Agua nile on the river Nile

When can I get a movie
             Where a cute date involves
                          Two people eating mangos
                          Licking the juice off each other’s lips?

Why do all interracial relationships involve white people?

As though people of color have nothing to offer?


Michelle Lizet Flores: "Being a native Floridian and current resident, I am happy to have returned to the land where trees don’t sleep. A graduate of FSU and NYU creative writing programs, I currently work as a 5th grade reading teacher where I foster the next generation of American writers. I have previously been published in magazines such as Badlands, The Miami Rail, and Noble/Gas QTRLY. Find out more at MichelleLizetFlores.com."




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