Rigorous
Volume Three, Issue 2



Michelle Bermudez


The Beauty of a Dangerous Boy

When we were dating, this boy and I,
we dreamed of mixed babies and houses we couldn’t afford
in towns safer than ours and more money than even our parents dreamed of.
He respected my mother’s madre and asked for bendiciones
with a broken Spanish I couldn’t fix and signed his notes
with the handwriting of a child even younger than us.
We thought love was easy and I promised myself to this boy
before my mother could teach me more than how to cook for a husband.

All this before I knew that my body was a contest
thrown around the boys’ locker room before basketball,
before I knew what mens’ needs were and that limited patience is not only for fathers,
that rumors are sometimes true and not all the girls were just jealous—
before I knew that my body was being bet on and he had the highest chances of winning.

Maybe you don’t keep all of your promises but I made good on mine in a bed that wasn’t.
He showed me my blood on his fingers with teeth in his eyes,
while I put my knees back together and wished for the past,
for the minutes before when I said “Wait, I’m thirsty” instead of “no, I’m not ready.”
For more time to go numb, for alcohol instead of the tea he brought,
for softer hands when he pulled my legs around his waist without asking.

I wished for his fingers to not be his, but those of a woman I wouldn’t meet for years.
A woman who doesn’t leave marks and still uses her eyes more than her hands.
A woman who heard “no,” not from my mouth but from my own begging eyes—
a woman whose heart I broke because I haven’t yet learned to lie on my back
without seeing the beautiful face of that dangerous boy.




Karen from Portland

I think I’ll call them all Karen from now on,
all the women who just want to fuck, who just want to see
“what it’s like with another girl,”
the Karens who have totally kissed another girl and definitely liked it
so why not the other stuff?
This Karen calls the other stuff scissoring.

I say, well first of all, while straddling her thighs and putting her face in my hands,
let's not call it that.
This Karen is eleven years older than me and watches only lesbian porn.
She thinks, why not scissor for real.
I think, since when did sex start getting compared to cutting.
This Karen says, back to my place and I nod
the way I did when the first Karen only wanted to kiss,
the way I did when the second Karen wanted to leave our clothes on,
the way I did when the third Karen hesitated with her fingers at my zipper because—
what if I don’t like it—
the way I did when fourth Karen said she studied a lot of porn so it would be good for me, too.
It wasn’t.
The way I did when Amir, not Karen, said, are you ready?
And I was not ready and he was not a Karen.
I was not ready because he was not a Karen.

This Karen is from Portland.
This Karen has a dog.
He barks at me when she opens the door.
I think, her dog doesn’t like me.
He jumps from one side of the bed to the other,
across my legs when I get my pants down my ankles.
I think, this dog really doesn’t like me.
He whines when I kiss her, when I take her lips between my teeth and pull.
I think, maybe it looks like I’m going to hurt her.
When he licks me on my own mouth,
I think, he’s showing me how it’s done.
But I’ll be damned if I take advice from the tiny dog of a straight woman named Karen,
no matter how eager she is to please, to learn, to get off on the hips of a lesbian from a city across the country that she will never see again if things go south.
A lesbian she asked to scissor with.

When this Karen, this Karen from Portland,
catches her breath, she kisses my stomach and
she says, I want to go down on you.
I say, honey, we don’t have the time for me to teach you.
She says, but I want to taste you.
I push inside of myself and I say, open your mouth.
She says nothing.
And when she sucks my middle finger onto her tongue I say,
Now you taste me.
Karen’s dog says nothing.


Michelle Bermudez: "I am a Latina poet who received my MFA in creative writing at Adelphi University, where I am also an adjunct instructor. I am the 2017 recipient of the Donald Everett Axinn Award for Fiction. My poems and prose have been published in The Monmouth Review, Isacoustic, Sugared Water and Persian Sugar in English Tea: An Anthology of Short Poems and Haikus (Volume 2), as well as in Francis House and Philadelphia Says: Resisting Arrest. I live in New York and am currently at work on a collection of Spanglish poetry. "




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