Leslie Contreras Schwartz is a Mexican American poet and essayist living in Houston, Texas. She earned an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College in 2011. Her first book, Fuego, was published in March 2016 by Saint Julian Press. She works as a teacher, editor, and writer.

Also by Leslie Contreras Schwartz: Fuego Late Night Inheritance

Leslie Contreras Schwartz


I met myself on the sidewalk walking my son in the stroller. I could not tell how old I was, too many lines or not enough, around the eyes. Then azaleos bursting in the dry soil on Mullins Street impossibly bright, as if something I dearly wanted but did not even know existed until we were face-to-face. I want to be every child that passes, every girl I try to recognize peddling on wobbly legs, plastic bike pedals squeaking. Was I ever that child, or this one, her mother swinging her so high she is flying away from her, then back, then away again. Everything repeating, the way the cracked sidewalks open to the root of the oak trees, unearthing the parched earth. Whose child are we if we can't remember the child, whose mother, whose father. Many mothers have buried themselves in these cracks, hedged between the earth and cement of marriage and children. I have never thought of grabbing my daughter by a fistful of hair. Locking her outside the house, the sun punishing her body with heat. But sometimes I feel that crack rising, a dryness in my throat. I am not sure if it is the want of the girl or my own mother who needs attention, whose feet I am stepping in. Because a mother is not born loving their child, no angel appears in her heart, igniting night, wetting her eyelashes with God. No sacred seed in her womb holding in a floodgate of warm tears. Even the infant gazes at the ceiling, watching shadows come and go, the desert of walls. You are either the one who catches the child who falls, or not. There is no in between place. A child is loved, or she is not. And Plato, he did not say that really the people in the caves were all children, the shadows, their mothers. And this is why she must not only untie them, let them out of the cave, but carry them on her back into the window of sunlight. You can tell which mothers these are by the curve of her back, how much weight she let herself carry. That part sacred — not the mother, not even the child — but the carrying, the weight, faces in full sun where, outside, azaleas are pushing through every leaf-bud.

I wrote this while trying to grapple with the myth of motherhood, particularly that of the all-sacrificing, pristine martyr. The true story of motherhood is one of struggle, of a hard-earned belief that humanity is worth continuing through the raising of children, while dealing with the weight of that responsibility; it can be, at times, crushing. Simply put, no woman is born to be a mother. It is not a calling, either. It is something else, which I try to understand in this poem.

Glass: A Journal of Poetry is published monthly by Glass Poetry Press.
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