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 matterwhat 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.”
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.
Praise for Fuego
"Leslie Contreras Schwartz doesn't use words to smooth over life's edges.Instead, she writes about the jagged parts directly: the struggle of difficult pregnancies, the trials and joys of motherhood, the horrors she saw in her students' lives when she briefly taught fourth grade. (This is) a collection of clear, crisp poems that tangle directly with the stuff of life."
Fuego is full of fire, of the passionate intensity of creation in the face of great odds - the intensity of difficult pregnancies and childbirth and all-consuming motherhood, of the immigrant student who struggles to write his first sentences in English, the child who falls from her bike and gets up again and again, the long- distance swimmer trying to swim to Antarctica, all of them stand-ins, I think, for the artist who struggles to make something meaningful from language in the midst of life, which is to say in the midst of death. This Leslie Contreras Schwartz has done in her debut collection, and hers is a distinctive and welcome new voice in American poetry.
—Susan Wood, Gladys Louise Fox Professor Emerita of English at Rice University, author of Asunder, National Poetry Series selection 2001