Poem by Liz Ramirez & Art by Katerina Bukolska

et tu

by Liz Ramirez

I.

 

the same summer you promise yourself

you’ll be good this year, no

more dating coworkers this time around

she shows up in your section

with those black and purple box braids. the 

other Dominican girls all give 

off that same kinda vibe—(you wonder now

why you never wondered

why so many of the girls who came from the DR

and Columbia were gay. and hot. those accents.

that voice.)

 

still, you have to ask.

you’re not confident enough yet reading the signs

tight rash guard with long sleeves, boy lifeguard trunks

those bicep tattoos.

you pull Maddie aside to make sure

under your breath

and she laugh-hurls her yes at you.

 

every unscheduled day, Lorena finds out where

you are and comes to your section.

she bikes seven miles from common

street apartments to sit on a stand and scan for

twelve hours, just to see you

in the corner of her vision

running around hectic in the sun

green shirt, khaki shorts, radio

you lend her a whistle, tell her to keep it

she flirts with you in Spanglish

she bites you, hard, the first time you kiss.

 

II.

 

the other girls from the DR share

cramped two-bedroom apartments

six to a unit.

Lorena stays with five men. they all go

outside when you arrive, leaving

the living room for you two to down

tiny bottles of fireball on the couch mattress and

read from her notebook covered in

tiny precise Spanish. this you only half

understand.

 

your manager took you to the deck

above section one that day, pointed to where Lorena

sat on a stand. you have never been so certain

you’re about to be fired. again.

keep an eye on her, Sarhece

says. problem employee.

bad attitude.

swear to god in that moment

her goodbye kiss scarlet-letters

your lips.

 

a friend in ops services tells you she

regularly misses her shifts

goes to the wrong section

to be near you.

she hides behind Spanish, curses

him out not knowing he can understand,

another enemy.

somehow she makes everyone

angry, and yet

she writes you love letters in Spanish

picks you the tiniest flowers

calls you corazoncita linda before she

hangs up the phone at night.

 

III.

 

by the time Jeremiah outs you

to Scott at the square, Lorena is already

calling you before paperwork is even signed,

making you send her pictures

every morning, so she

can see you are where you say you are.

sometimes you lie.

sometimes she still bites you.

you forfeit your chance to say anything.

try as you might you can’t make

yourself say anything mean to her. 

it’s not like central Texas was a haven for

“rebellious” butch black women 

with an attitude and a

deceptively exceptional grasp of English

to begin with.

 

by the end the boys from the DR all seem

to know. she must have told them.

one of them whistles at you suggestively as

you walk through the park.

nothing has ever tasted worse than 

what have you done. I lied: there’s one thing:

et tu, brute?

if it was a boy you’d block him, tell him to fuck off

make fun of him that night to your mom and sister.

but now? all your mother needs is another reason

to hate lesbians. all your friends need is

a reason to start shit-talking her. all you need

is an opportunity to start defending

her again.

 

and it isn’t that

the ending isn’t bad. it is.

you cry. she lies. she says she cheated

but tenderness doesn’t cancel out.

and three years later when her

name pops up on a Facebook friend

request you still have that picture she sent you

cradling the baby turtle they found in the river that day

her hands those strong blunt calloused fingers cupping

the little passenger, quarter-small

with his nose upturned, reaching for the warmth.

Liz Ramirez is a graduate student and teaching assistant at Texas A&M University, where she studies English with an interest in abolition literature, representations of chronic illness, creative writing, and creative nonfiction. IG and Twitter: trapezoidette.

Katerina Bukolska is an artist, mother, and educator from Prague. Her work has been shown in exhibitions in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland, New York, and Spain.