Houston Poet Laureate Leslie Contreras Schwartz’s fourth book, Black Dove / Paloma Negra (FlowerSong Press, 2020), was named a finalist for the Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for 2020 Best Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters.
You were a woman who rarely sat, I imagine,
but in this photograph, you sit,
all four feet eight inches of you.
Erect and powerful as a queen,
requiring no one to look
to exist in that chair.
But you were not of royalty.
You were the mother of ten children.
And in your eyes are a two-bedroom house,
600-square feet, in Old Sixth Ward,
where you would bear and raise children,
live with sisters and brothers
and their children,
sometimes cousins and distant relatives.
You were quiet, and gentle.
But in the set of your black eyes
(which would turn cataract-grey)
and the determined fix of your mouth,
you carry the knowledge and strength
to survive the loss of your son Joe
who’d drown in Buffalo Bayou at 12 years old.
You carry the knowledge and strength
of being an indigenous Mexican American woman
with the audacious dream and determination
to see her brown boys go to war, come back alive and then
to see one daughter attend a music conservatory,
and another daughter to study with the most prominent
painter in town.
You carry the imagination of turning the means of a blacksmith
into generations of scientists, lawyers, bankers, business people,
educators, writers, artists and thinkers.
Look at you, holding water-colored red flowers in your right
letting it hang, a sprig of purpled wildflowers decorating your
Your black hair let down to hang along
the back of your white dress
to the legs of the chair.
Your feet dressed in hardy pointed boots,
staggered with your legs crossed.
You own the chair that you sit on
and are the owner of all that will come to pass
for our family,
long after the time of this photo circa 1910,
a young bride at the brink of creating a history
with her own hands and body.
Looking right at us in the eye.
Don’t come here
with that foolishness.
Bring what I made of you.
“Frances” by Leslie Contreras Schwartz, from her collection BLACK DOVE / PALOMA NEGRA (FlowerSong Press, 2020)
Leslie Contreras Schwartz is the Houston Poet Laureate, and her fourth book, Black Dove / Paloma Negra (FlowerSong Press, 2020), was named a finalist for the Helen C. Smith Memorial Award for 2020 Best Book of Poetry from the Texas Institute of Letters. She is the author of Fuego (St. Julian Press, 2016), and Nighbloom & Cenote (St. Julian Press, 2018), a semi-finalist for the 2017 Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, judged by Ilya Kaminsky. She is a proud disabled poet and activist for the disabled, queer and BIPOC communities, and works in communities teaching writing workshops and creating art-making and storytelling opportunities. Her work has appeared in Catapult, Missouri Review, Iowa Review, [PANK], Verse Daily, Pleiades, Zocalo Public Square, and Xicanx: 21 Mexican American Writers of the 21st Century (University of Arizona, 2022), edited by ire’ne lara silva, among other publications. She is a member of the Macondo Writers’ Collective. She has collaborated or been commissioned for poetic projects with the City of Houston, the Houston Grand Opera, and The Moody Center of the Arts at Rice University. She is currently a faculty member at Alma College's MFA low-residency program in creative writing.
Contreras Schwartz was born in Houston, Texas, with Mexican American and Mexican roots going back several generations in Houston and Texas. She is a graduate of The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and earned a bachelor's at Rice University.