"Call all thriving things illegal: / The magnolia tree, its roots, / That vast network of veins that feeds itself / And others like it in dry soil, / Pushes space through concrete sidewalks / To breathe ... Every tough, gnarled thing holding / Its own life in a fist of vitality is illegal."
-- from" Everything is Illegal"
Nightbloom & Cenote sifts into the dirt beneath the cracks of girlhood, uncovers a retribution of generations, of family and of birth and misfortune of daughters unloved and unprotected, from the ever-unfolding story of patriarchy and its brutality, and sings of survival in the midst of all that violence. Sinuous as vines and gleaming as nightblooms, these poems tangle and snake and take the generational blame, the guilt reserved for us girls who grow into women, and finally break the cycle, finally crack the sidewalks we girls/women have been buried under all these years.
Schwartz, with her lyrical prowess, sings us to safety: “we will run out / this run belongs to us / both out that door with the baby and all her future babies and we will find all your sisters / my mother and hers.” These poems are steeped in culture and myth, are lush with the landscape of survival, are the voices of mothers and our mothering forebears who braid our hair and hold us as we weep, who teach us how, once our tears are dry, to fight back.
In Nightbloom & Cenote Leslie Contreras Schwartz traverses a nighttime landscape with eyes purposefully wide open. She descends into "nightcups of hurt and stains"—navigates rugged territory––where most would refuse to tread. In these darkened depths, Leslie pushes against every uncomfortable edge: personal and generational affronts. She relents, "there is too much to move, that won’t." Yet, she keeps stepping with her gaze focused on what wilts and blooms. In her hometown of Houston, she reflects on both literal and metaphorical landscapes, "where streetlights bust out and stay busted." She’s bold in her witnessing though her poems seem to palpate under her exacting "knife, the sharp edge/ that we use to make something, /Even if it disappears." In this brilliant volume, Schwartz instructs best in how she navigates loss. "Let me walk unsteadily. /Let me lose and lose/my body in parts while I watch and sing anyway." Her verse though sorrow-tinged––shouts a powerful song of resistance. She bade us sing no matter what we withstand.
--Glenis Redmond, author of What My Hand Say
“In (Nightbloom & Cenote) the smallest detail opens a kind of world all its own: “I am made of those sweat-filled / sheets of sorrow, / a clothesline of flinching blouses / waiting for that slap and back beat / to dry.” I loved this, and I loved also the intensity of being a single person as exhibited in the lyric voice of this work.”
“The night-blooming jasmine invoked by this book’s title reveals its flowers not in daylight but in darkness, and in that same way, this stunning collection by Leslie Contreras Schwartz unfolds what’s hidden, whether it’s the personal and cultural histories we carry inside us, the hundreds of dollars concealed in a grandmother’s curtains, the words we want to say but don’t, or ‘those wings’—as one poems says—“that flutter/within my cells.” At its core, so much of this book tells the unspoken truth of what it means to inhabit a body, with its frailties and beauties and abuses and miracles. The insight of these poems will leave you shaken.”
One of the miracles of Leslie's collection is an almost-unearthly, tonal quiet: in the midst of violence, or not, and against the terror of the diurnal is the counter-force of incredulity, the unlikeliness of it all: life, the zygote that becomes you or me, and its corollary, the fledgling that falls dead from its nest …
There's not a perpetual forgiveness of sins in Nightbloom & Cenote –– there are limits. But just as the title itself is astounding –– the rarest of flowers on the one hand and the most despicable doom of young girls on the other –– that perpetual balancing act in the book is something Schwartz manages with the utmost deftness and gentleness. One would not expect "gentleness" in such a collection, yet it lies at the heart. An amazing accomplishment.