Leslie Contreras Schwartz
AFTER HER DEATH, WE FIND HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS IN MY GRANDMOTHER'S CURTAINS
Leslie Contreras Schwartz
After her death, hundreds of dollars floated
out from the curtains, pouring out like dusk.
A sky of bills burgeoning into mens' faces that floated down
to my mother. Moths that had stayed hidden
in the same coat, same sleeve.
Now paper planes sent from a child
to another child. A secret,
hidden from the nuns with their tight
and coiled buns. Money hidden in closets,
in pillowcases, crisp with the smell of receipts, moth-
for my grandmother's death
to be spent.
I have made her memory into wings, I have
shaken them from my own coat.
Isn't that what we do, take
what our parents, our grandparents held
tenderly, shuck it off. Lay our hands in the dirt to remove
My grandmother's hands held
a belt, deftly, as if she knew how to beat a horse
so that it was broken, then ride it until it forgot it was a horse.
Most of the time, in the kitchen spilling a fistful of lard
into a black cast-iron pan. Watching beans, chicken,
rice, boil and boil. Then calling the men
to come eat.
At the funeral, my mother clutched
night-blooming jasmines in her hand. Its leaden perfume
that drowns out stars and the oak trees' clutch
of soil, heavy blanket of sickened sweet when the night opens full of that expansive dark and
then is usurped by that tiny clutch of white petals.
Scentless now, stock-still, her body
half hidden by the coffin and its décor of anemic white lilies, carnations,
larkspurs, gerber daisies, roses, patient in its waiting to be tossed
in the waste-heap.
The trick of her body that belied warmth, sweating its leftover
tears. Her head allowed to rest on a cradle of white pillows.
And the crucifix wrapped securely around
her wrist, not once, but three times.
And the white baby Jesus in her Gothic Christmas scene in the foyer, animals of every fang and hoof,
giraffes and elephants and pigs, swarming the baby in animal longing, the baby resting in his radiant
humanness. The worms
are going to eat me. And into her heavy breasts I'd tuck a smile,
at three, at five, seven, and then
thirty, standing in the hallway
of the hospital. Her body, the area where her legs belonged sunken as if dripping
off the edges of the hospital bed, her torso and its stiff
holding up of the sheets, like it doesn't want to be touched.
Her eyes watery and brimmed with bruise.
The eyes that hated the fat or the bony
or the beady-eyed and the whorish in every girl,
tried to smother it in a bathtub's reflective
sheen of water.
Then stared listening to her own chest crackle open
when the child told
how he pulled her in the closet, unzipped
That sees the girl reading a book,
storing men in her closet to be a whore,
learning new ways to be a whore,
to stash men like shoes or money.
Letting yarn unravel long and long from her lap.
Ask how pretty is your Lita.
My mother, reaching for another bill, one for each time
she was orphaned. A teenage birthmother, an adoptive father that died young,
a woman hiding a whore and a fist in a jewelry box of God. Every-
thing can be mourned even this
the same mens' faces laying their eyes on laying
their animal eyes of forest green and moss. I want
to spend it Pile of blank wings called mourning: a bird that saves flight
and pecks and pecks and pecks that worm a hunger a hunger that grows wild,
clutching tiny white petals
Leslie Contreras Schwartz teaches writing workshops in poetry and personal essay at Inprint Houston and Writespace. Her poetry has appeared in Pebble Lake Review, Southern Women’s Review, Storyscape Literary Journal, Improbable Worlds: An Anthology of Texas and Louisiana Poets by Mutabilis Press, and is forthcoming in Tinderbox Literary Journal and Glass: A Journal of Poetry. Her personal essays have appeared in the Huffington Post, Houston Chronicle, The Toast, Ozy, and Dame Magazine.
Her first collection of poems, Fuego, was published by Saint Julian Press in March 2016. She holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College and a BA in English from Rice University, where she won the Academy of American Poets’ College & University Prize in 2001.