Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 4



Susi Lopera


Chicharrón y Cielo

He called me “mi cielo.”
The movement of his firm lips
made mine tremble, made the skin
of the nape of my neck
tingle beneath my black hair.

I called him “chicharrón”
as we kissed, my tongue
fluttering. Now

he calls her “mi cielo”
and he knows that I know. I still wear

the ring on my left finger—the ring
that held an aquamarine the day he slipped
it on my finger. Now
it’s just a metal band holding up

an empty cage. As long as I wear his ring,
every Friday he expects me
to fry him chicharrón.
So each Friday I toss pork belly
into hot grease and cringe
as the popping grease frizzes my hair.

At least his landscaping job earns us enough
to pay for my GMC Yukon Denali and
his Ford F-350 King Ranch Crew Cab.
The rest of the money we send back
to our families in Colombia, leaving
$20 for groceries each week. Tomorrow

is grocery day, so here I am once
again, walking on a bleached-clean brick
path lined with trees whose leaves cast
shadows on both my body and the ground.
I pretend that the leaf-shadows
on my arms brand me
as part of this place, this big, grand
university—the one I always dreamed of.
A place where I would become famous
after I learned how to measure seismic activity
on the sun and how to discover
habitable planets. Black bulging trash bag
slung over my shoulder, my left hand thrust
into a bin, I try to recover enough of the students’
beer cans and plastic water bottles to buy
a bag of rice, avocados, cans of tuna,
and some tomatoes: side dishes for his chicharrón.

My fingers touch a knot of cold slime.
I yank my hand out—
rice noodles tangled in my ring.




Bite Your Tongue Bloody

“She swallowed the mouse skull.
Instantly, she turned into a dragon,”
a British man whispers in my ear,
his voice flowing
out of my headphones.

A boy—a stranger—saunters towards me
down the aisle. The sight of him
draws me away from the audiobook,
away from the girl-turned-dragon
flying towards the moon, pulling me back
into my blue vinyl seat
on the train bound for Oceanside. I yank out
my headphones as the boy shoves
my backpack off the seat next to me
and plops himself down.

He grabs my hand, says he saw me smile at him
in the window. I tell him my smile was for dragons
and enchanted skulls. He says I’m playing
hard to get and squeezes my hand.

We’re the only ones on this train car.

He chats me up, in Spanish.
He says his name is Gilberto
and he’s from El Salvador.

He strokes my fingers as my palms pool
with sweat. He tells me he works
at a Peruvian restaurant in Norwalk
and that he just came back
from vacation in Brazil
where he fished for piranhas
using canned chicken liver as bait.

He grabs my arm, rough
enough to raise a bruise, and kisses me.

He drools.
I purse my lips.
He braids his fingers
in my hair. I bite my tongue
until I taste blood.
The loudspeaker announces
that we’re nearing San Clemente—his stop.
He grabs my phone from my pocket,
says he won’t leave
without giving me his number. I let him
type it into my phone. The train stops.
He lingers, trying for another kiss.
I turn my head—his wet lips
land on my ear as the train’s doors begin to close.
He throws himself at the doors—squeezes
through the gap as the doors slam shut.

The train shudders, hurtles onward.

In the window, my reflection glares at me.
I stick out my tongue. Blood
drips from the gash where I bit it earlier.
I bite my tongue again, then again
and again, my mouth pooling with blood.

I imagine spitting the blood in the boy’s face.
My spit, my blood—in his hair, on his skin,
oozing into his eyes and into his mouth.

But I swallow the impulse,
swallow my mouthful of blood.
I resume my audiobook,
returning to the dragon in my head
as blood continues to flow from my tongue,
washing away any traces still left
of a stranger’s spit in my mouth.


Susi Lopera: "I was born in Medellin, Colombia, but currently live in San Antonio, Texas with my family, three silly dogs, and nine chickens. I like wearing mismatched socks and enjoy talking to myself in British and French accents. I am a sculptor who works mostly in clay, but I am trying out the new exciting medium of bronze. I also make videos and write poetry. You can check out my art at my website and on Instagram."




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