Rigorous
Volume Four, Issue 3



Kelsey Milian


Buenos Días Niña

17 stops.
Palmetto Station to Douglas Road.
30 minutes of music that seem to cloud
my thoughts with summer plans.

The city is hot and humid.
Today more than ever before.

I sit down next to large handbags
cheap flats,
and petite women.

They remind me of an alternate universe.
My life.
And my mother’s life.


They stand here as early as 6:15am.
Conversation after conversation.
Bus after bus taking them to Hialeah.
Taking them home.


A new brown skinned woman approaches
the bench every 15 minutes.
Besos, names, and preguntas about how their families is doing
Are the normal intros exchanged.



I sat there and listened to their conversations.
Forgetting their laundry upon reaching Hialeah.

Working in a new house in Coral Gables.

But it hit me.
To the point that I began to taste
The salty drops of my subtle tears.

They were the maids.
Las que take care of
your children.
Las que spend hours cleaning
The homes they wish to own one day.

My mother was one, a time before I appeared.
A life we would have continued if opportunity was not earned.

But,
my destiny was different.

I sat on that bus stop to take
The next route to a future mis papas
dreamed for me.

Lo que soñaron para us.

Those women remind me of a culture and people
I refuse to forget.
Respecting what they do
Their sacrifice and ganas
Goes noticed.

I hope mis sueños go noticed too.




Dear Papi

I wouldn’t trade the strands of pure black hair that grow from my scalp.

And when I was younger,
they were breathtakingly pure black curls.
The kind that leaves fingers trapped in a soft cocoon of Latin brand Shampoo & coconut oil.

Remember when my tiny fingers wrapped around your thick, hairy, sole finger, ever so tightly.

Because I knew at a young age, that I could trust you.
Because I knew at a young age, thousands of men would try to hold, grab, and use, my hands for their own pleasure.

Holding onto yours made them go away.
And though I couldn’t hold your finger forever, I could imagine the same finger
Used to tell stories, watch shows on the television, and make breakfast.

You always told me to use our hands to build, to make, and create the world around you.
From your past,
from your history,
the same hands that crawled hours under a tunnel to a land you dreamed for you,
and then us.

The same hands used to fix, build, and invent machines
we now need for society to function.

I used my hands to create a world of my own.
Of music and songs, of poetry, paintings, and prose.
And like you, to fix the machines in people, and inspire them.

And in a world of entitled men. She trusted you because of your eyes.

When I asked her, how she knew you would be my father.
she said it was your eyes.
A warm brown tint found within our people.
The same tint that paints my brother’s skin today.


I cannot neglect the fact that we do not always see eye to eye.
Despite the fact that your eyes and mine
see the same shadows and colors that move this world.
Act in accordance to our emotions, rather than to stop and think.

Our bond has climbed mountains, crossed deserts, and walked through fire.
The same fire that has taught me to never change who I am.
The same fire that is inside you.


I wouldn’t trade the thin black hairs that grow on my arms or legs.
The kind that comes back stronger every time you cut or shave them off.
No.
Because, when I look at them.
They remind me of you.




Choco Banano

Come tu fruta cabrona
It will help your growth
Fix tu visión y ojos.

I peel back cushiony layers
Of skin
Flexible strands to reluctantly take
A bite of sweet soft memories.

Fix my eyesight?
How can a soft
sweet bite of you
improve eyes that
already have a clear
Distinct future?

But when papi arrives from work
To bring me un choco banano
I smile to the land
I also call home.

Covered in cold, solidified
cacao tastes,
I walk with my fingers wrapped
compactly around your hairy finger
to enter our street vendor’s small
shack.
Chucherias of American comics and
chips surround the stall.

Plastic bags filled with Coca Cola
are exchanged for small
paper bills with our beloved endangered
Bird.
Quetzal your way into my indigenous ancestor’s bloody chest,
to represent our civilization

sacrifice and loss to bearded
colonizers, I also call familia.

I am 2 years old again and
taking my big brother’s
mano.
I know he's always watching.
I walk alongside mami y papi.
Down to the cobble stoned narrow minded
streets.
Small cemented houses with aluminum plates for roofs.
I miss the perros callejeros I named as if I was their owner.

I take a small bite of my choco banano
and remember the land I once called home.

A phallic shaped idea of once indigenous roots
to revere las mujeres del mundo,
but conquered and forced into erect actions
from el hombre moderno.


I take each bite,
closer to reaching an end.
One I hope will occur to the
resilient penniless plights of my
exploited people.
Their time and bodies are
Grinded away by the very sweet choco banano’s
I ate everyday
in my beloved home of

Guatemala.




Brujería

An army of angels walks behind me,
in front of me
and on both sides in
case I lose my way.

Needless to say,
they come from all walks of life.

Some are my ancestors.
Some my close relatives.
Souls I have yet to meet and
those from the lives I have lived centuries ago.

These are the same angels mi madre and tia call to protect me.

You see,

I come from a family of healers.

Brujas
            Shamans
                        Chiefs
                                    Spirit guides
                                                            Empaths

Call it what you will.

Their is magjia
and the universe and I
are connected when we are together.


            mis brujas
take care of the wounded
            give shelter to the hopeless
                        and show compassion to the lost.



but they are cursed…

they give so much of their soul to any stranger,
sometimes they are left scraping for the broken pieces of
recognition and gratuity.

They do not do it for the recognition or gratuity.


So if you see a bruja,
smile at her.
You may not see the cracks on her hackneyed skin
but I do.


I caress each bump
each torn line,
until my kisses
make the pain disappear.

ALL
THAT REMAINS
IS LOVE.

A power passed down from
generation to generation of
brujeria.

You see,
I can heal.
Because I am a bruja too.




Twenty

I have given you twenty years
of heartache,
headaches,
and half hearted thank you.

But promise me,
That you will give 20 more years of
worried faces hidden behind scolds I could never unmask,
my full name pronounced in our colonizer’s tongue,
ominous to the sound when I was a toddler,
but music to my ears when I breath in the 10 syllable
declaration of respect and obedience.

Give me more saturday mornings of huevos con chorizo,
freshly squeezed orange juice that seems be a gold mine no matter where I go,
and the voices of Frank Sinatra
or the strums of Santana's guitar
to remind me of my sanity.

My aspirations include mending the minds
Of someone else’s spoiled progeny.
Everyday is filled with reminders of say
“Please” say “Thank you”
“Today we are going to talk about the power of
Your voice, your youth”
and I hope, your smooth baby skin, free from the cuts and bruises
of a confusing and sometimes unjust world.

In case somebody did not tell you today,
“You are capable of anything.”

I look at my student’s faces and I say
“gracias”
to the universe for giving me two people
who never doubted my abilities.


Who told me everyday
“Eres capaz de todo, Kelsey Samantha Milian Lopez”


I cringe at the bodies of my small babies
But laugh at the idea that I was once that small,
that powerful,
that worrisome.

My pride prevents me from kneeling on the ground
to beg for forgiveness on 2 decades of
Tears, wrinkles, screams, rolled eyes, uncontrollable anger,
regrets, mistakes, ripped pillows, and family photographs left to burn.

I make a wish to super moons and our ancient gods
to take you with me wherever I go.
I create small keychains of flightless birds
to add you to a collection of trinkets that inspire
the only sense of direction I could ever know.
I place you both safely into my pant pocket
hoping the weight of my memories does not overwhelm you.

I ask you to give me 20 more years.
See a tenacious little girl,
who fought for the right to
breathe in an extraordinary life.

I walk through the world as
A phenomenal woman.

I take each hand.
A hairy one for protection.
A soft one for wisdom
and let myself take a final leap.

A flashback to that first swing
into a new adventure.




Can you speak English ?

My nose burns when
I stare at the men who look like my father.
Average sized Hispanic men.
Inmigrantes.
Trabajadores.

It’s the caramel skin tone,
mimicking the K'iche Mayan
features of my ancestors and
what first cousins
Sport everyday from one of my many homes.

It’s the thick mustache that ages over the years
and reveals a layer of graying hairs.
Similar to how your hairy chest seems to mature,
taking me back to the days when I loved to pull them.
And the time mi madre took the kitchen scissors,
greased with the same spicy oils of the chorizo packages we cut
on Saturday mornings to trim the growing forest on your chest.

My hands clench
and I want to embrace in
a tight abrazo, the women who act
like my mother.
Petite Hispanic women.
Inmigrantes
Trabajadoras

It’s the details of their bodies.
Defined by the notorious wrinkles spread evenly
on their foreheads because the untraditional actions
of my emerging adulthood cause impending worry and anxiety.
Thighs and breasts of warriors,bruxjas, and muxjeres
who vicariously live a piece of themselves in
every child they breed.

It’s the accent.
A botched English with enough eloquence formed in the phrases in both your minds.
But, somehow not quite perfect to the standards placed by unaffected elitists.

It’s an accent my brother and I have tried to perfect.
Knowing the true nature of having to live in a world
of climbing the social and economic ladder,
mis papas both so separately and desperately tired to build for us.

With nothing but ganas and the resources we found in the waste of the wealthy,
we cringe every time they tell us.
Commend us.
Praise us
on how well we speak.
As if, we should be grateful when the cost for success outweighed
the colonization of our ancestors native tongue.

The assimilation of each word
allows me to produce
the very language
You and I must speak and
Write daily.
Endlessly.
Relentlessly,
in order to acquire a degree worth nothing but the words of
old white hands that hand me legitimacy.


I scramble to understand
why they laugh when they hear
men,
women,
people,
who look like,
mi madre,
mi padre,
mi familia,
mi gente
speak English.

Can you speak English? They joke.
Puedes hablar Inglés?
Can you speak Spanish ?
Puedes hablar Español?

Me entiendes ?
Can you understand me?
Me oyes?
Can you hear me ?

Entienda me.
Understand me.
Escucha me
Hear me.

Si, I can speak Inglés.




Good night in Spanish and Farsi

            I lay my head on a compact seat cushion and stare at the salmon glazed, Himalayan salt crystals above me, thinking about this week’s novela.
            I stay day dreaming for the night we could lay here together in this peaceful state and smile at the way the universe cannot seem to fit us in a timeline where we end it here together.

            Shoulder to shoulder.
            Heart to Heart.
            We lay in silent conversation as we match up the broken crystals in beautiful alignment in the midst of complete disarray.
            Beautiful man dosed in pain and darkness, my stares strike you like the guitar strings you strum and pop from overpowering tightness.
            You zoom into my mind the way you avoid my gaze and finally surrender with the flapping of those curved eyelashes, still refusing to acknowledge your aura, alluring every time to me.
            But I cannot give into the feeling no matter how fast it beats.
Prevent me from becoming a reminder of the seven year battle you barely made out alive.
I wanted to be the seven year journey into a love supreme.
But perhaps in another lifetime, where the love isn’t so far to gasp.


            I reach for these Jade & obsidian stones to keep me upright when my body seems to fail me on a night of broken souls.
            My energy cannot seem to save me this time.
            I fall and faint over as winter has finally arrived.
            But you crack and leave us to shatter.
            I thought glass was sharper than these ice crystals formed from my tears.
            Bandages have failed to patch up the wounds we have created.

            The guards you have hired cannot keep you safe anymore, dark prince.
            I arrived tearing down the walls to remind you it is time to find a healing peace.
            How I turned to the universe and begged the moon to help you find it.
            I wish more than anything for it to be me.
            I accept that maybe now is not the time and place.
            But, I will love you in ways in which this contemporary space cannot permit
            and alternate with the realities where my mind feared a replay of our initial phase, leaving me in the dark so long before.
            Watching our lives together in this, I suppose final phase,
            I’ll never feel as if time was wasted when we searched for the moon and never found it. It was enough knowing I could search for it with you.

Your presence was enough.

Your presence was enough for a girl to love a beautiful man who carries away a piece of her soul and leaves my body lifeless on the soft, wet ground.
It beats one last breath into the steam field sauna.
One last buenas noches and a shab be kheir.




In the Silence

Awkward stillness
Hums from the air conditioner
Wide gaps from what we should fill with days and ideas of better communities, better government, better people.
I wish I could fill the silence with words and songs the same way I let water overflow in the wine glasses I wash after I have not done the dishes.
Realizing I should save the water I let overflow, how I should play a role in saving the planet my ancestors cultivated for us.
But, I love the way the water feels on my skin.
I turn the knob at such a high temperature hoping the wet rush of water brings me sharper pain than what I have felt when I thought I lost you.
In the silence I think about the memories we have shared in the past three centuries I have known you.
I replay the nights when I could have attempted the unthinkable, the reckless and unfaithful truth maybe I would have considered if I was not so faithful.
I stare into the water, into the silence, and rehearse the things I wanted to tell you before we became breakable. Wishing I sped up the process so that you and I would not have to wait another lifetime in order to see each other again.

We take in deep breaths after months of silence. Legs shaking with the accompaniment of tears I call friends now. Sharing the same skin once again, I thank the universe for this smile again.
For the brief moments of what has always been and forever will be us. Partners and people we might foresee as potentials fly past the reality of what we feel in this moment.

You say the silence is important, a necessity as it creates an extension to the universe.
It allows you to connect to the natural world, appreciate the land's beauty, and harvest the thoughts you would want to convey now or at a later time.
Words and love I would want you to express too easily at every phone call and letter I send.
Rejecting the patience that envelopes our silence.
The spiritual world seems to remind me to not rush the process, enjoy the moment, love the silence again.

And perhaps, in the silence, we find the words we wanted to say to each other again. I project a million scenarios involving an unwavering connection. Years have passed, but in that silence, we know exactly what to say, what to feel, and how to love.




Absence of Color

I graciously thank you from across each side of this table.
Gracias for the opportunities.
Thank you for the payment.
Gracias for believing in me.

Except, no matter how many thank you’s I give you,
or the million of opportunities I receive or earn here,
when I look up at this crowd,
I see no one that looks like me.
Nobody looks like me.

I scan each face searching for a slight arch
on the nose that hopefully mirrors the one of my ancestors I briefly learn about in social studies textbooks.
We unsurprisingly never dive deeper because a colonizer’s history is important
than the people
who lived here long before the conquest.
More valuable than the cultivators of this borrowed land.
More memorable than the stories who survived incessant destruction,
resilient with every tradition and cultural artifact.

I beg for hair matching the rarest minerals found in our soul.
Volcanic, onyx like pigments
that makes me conceitedly brag as the nicest.
I remind us of the beauty it means to look like them.
For if we come from the earth, of maize, then
we are as natural as they come.

I whisper and beg for skin of all colors, all shades, all beauty.
A lack of color scares me.
A lack of color rules this country and my people.
And I’d be fine with an existence of white,
But not when it is all I am allowed to see.

I close my eyes and hope the next time
I open them,
I can see a room of color, of light and dark.
And people that look like me.




Being Human

I cry over the malicious ways a single, ignorant man can desire to go to war with my best friend’s people. And still have the stamina to kick mi gente out of the only sueño they have ever known.

I wish I could stare at him the same way an angel must watch over those
Who are restless and reckless with their tears, uneasy and fearful
of the good nights, buenas noches or shab be kheir we take for granted over the Facetime calls I wish we had every night.

As a seemingly, unthreatening figure slowly glides into my area of the gym, I see his wrinkles open and close as if they were freshly made wounds everytime he lifts 7lb dumbbells, on the black mats next to mine. When he stares at his reflection in the mirror, I wonder if he can see the tears I mask for sweat on days when red was once my favorite color. However, that blood stained hat firmly attached to his scalp, forces me to find a new favorite color again.

And four years ago, I tried to convince myself to bleed purple instead, attend campus events, make conversation, wear comfort colors of southern fried cotton, and monogram my name into a culture that I never fully felt part of.

This place and its people…

This complacent place and its people gave birth to a social justice warrior in the fall of two thousand sixteen.

Never fully comprehending the extra pounds it takes to carry this weight of activism, I was eager to make a transformation in this society. I tried to share with them dances and stories of ancestors and immigrants who suffered to bring you my most authentic self.
I was returned with travel bans, deportations, blood stained hats, and classmates who fight for the right to party like the greek gods I read voraciously in my middle school years.

But it’s hard to make a change in a place where my mornings are
surrounded by faces and stories that are not like me.
Still admiring aspects of diversity, there is a difference when sitting in
a classroom and feeling as if the pain that courses within the generations of mi gente and others, goes unnoticed and are represented by the oversized straw hats, botched English accents, and the rainbow serape ponchos, your friend’s wear on Tuesday nights in a barn. These representations manifested out of a lack of a life fully lived, and I apologize that their privilege prevents them from the pleasure it is to meet the other people like me.
Part of my role as a warrior was to fight those moments of invisibility and appropriation.
But I find this battle quite difficult when I find myself at the front lines, with the passion, but unprepared for the second wave of the silent.

A silence I find worse on days when my spirit is weak from a long life of battle, your silence is deadlier than the chants of the ignorant of grandfathers who wear blood stained hats.


I was angry at you. All of you. And I’m still angry.
And yet, sometimes you can win without having to start a war.
So, I am healing and this is part of what it means to be a social justice …
Social…
This is what it means to be a human.
I am angry. I am tired. I am healing.
Heal with me.



Kelsey Milian: "I was raised in Miami, Florida. With a strong sense of cultural identity I have been able to connect and trace my heritage with my Mexican, Guatemalan, Aztec, Zapotec, K’iche Maya, French, German, Spanish, and Japanese roots. I recently graduated with a degree in Sociology and Educational Studies at the Liberal Arts Institution Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina. I now reside in New York City as I pursue a Ph.D. in Ethnomusicology at CUNY Graduate Center."




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