It is not walking into the school, leading my son
past the synagogue and into his Jewish preschool, down
to the blue door, the teacher’s careful chart on the door listing
We are at Movement, We are at Shabbat, We are at Music, We are Outside,
Be Right Back. It’s not putting his lunch kit—with a meal carefully made
by my husband, the water bottle with our son’s name on the side,
and his nap mat, freshly laundered—into the bin. It’s not our routine
of one lingering hug and exactly three kisses, then his waving to me from the door.
It’s not waving goodbye to his teachers, calling to them as they bend
over children saying Yes, tell me, tell me. It’s not the walk back
down the hallway, under the sign that says Chesed and Tikkun Olam,
the illustrations of children holding hands. It’s not the older children
in uniforms standing in line, whispering and gossiping, laughing at a joke,
awkward and self-conscious, lanky legged and long haired, practicing for adulthood.
It’s not the sounds of the children singing and praying, arguing and calling,
the Shema wandering down the hall. It’s not the steps to the security guard,
today in a black and hard-shelled bullet proof vest, my identification tag
bouncing against my chest as I walk to the front door.
It’s not walking to the car, opening the door, starting it, driving away.
It’s not driving by my older daughters’ school a few blocks away
where I see children walking out single file onto the parking lot
& the fire alarms sounding, for another emergency drill
in silence & within five minutes max.
It’s not that my first grader came home last month
to tell me how proud I would be that she was so quiet
during another active shooter drill,
that the shooter never found me as she huddled next to a friend.
It’s not that nothing I said would change her mind
that it wasn’t real.
It’s not that I can’t change my own mind
that this isn’t real.
It’s not that I felt this same grief, the black pull of sorrow
opening up the root of my veins, not my heart,
but something else, like a muscle, its connected tissue,
the whole architecture
of my body & its connection
with other human beings
a swallowed prayer, containing names
specific names and people loved:
Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin,
Unnamed children, alone
in icy cells, prisons, without their parents.
The 1,500 children, lost.
The lost and unfound Native women,
growing, names disappearing.
Rose Malinger, Sandra Bland,
Susie Jackson, Maurice Stallard,
Ashley HeavyRunner Loring.
It’s not that I know all guns are made, by design, to be hollow,
a loneliness contained in a barrel, to be filled readily by hate and anger.
It’s not that I know that the people I love, the children I love,
not only mine, but others, are in the path of that loneliness,
and they can be taken.
It’s not, I say it’s not, but it is because I’m lying.
All at the center of this sorrowed
structure that has been built inside me,
to an understanding of what’s possible.
These are the exact reasons I am terrified
to be a mother in a place where it is possible for children to die
by a grown man’s hands,
and we can’t see the hands, we can’t see them, what they’re doing
or when they might unload their lonely
nightmares into our very dreams.
To those hands I say: please, don’t call / us dead *
call us alive someplace better.
Because my son has plans to run in circles today
on the playground, roaring like a T-rex.
Because my oldest daughter wants to practice writing Hebrew letters
under a tree. Because my youngest daughter is very busy today
writing words in all capital letters,
in black sharpie marker that says
I love you I love you Mom I love you Dad
I love you teacher and sky and dog
a long list of everyone she loves down to their pets
and hair styles and taping these notes to all the chairs in our house,
so we don’t forget. Can you see these notes too, where you are from?
Would your daughter write you these notes, if you had one?
Can I imagine you a child, you, who would choose
to erase the face of my child? Would that help
you to not want to take mine? What else
can I leave at your door to make you stop?
I will lay myself down.
I will multiply myself and lay myself a thousand ways to your service
if it would make you stop I would feed you and distract you as I know all trolls
and monsters are constantly hungry and forget to steal childhoods,
fathers, grandmothers while they’re busy eating with their hands
* italicized quote is a line from Danez Smith
Leslie Contreras Schwartz is a multi-genre writer whose work examines the individual versus public bodies and documents lived experiences and narratives of those usually silenced, such as people with mental illness, sex workers, women who are trafficked, or children in custody. Her work has recently appeared or is forthcoming in The Missouri Review, The Collagist, PANK, Verse Daily, Rogue Agent, Catapult, and Tinderbox Poetry Journal, among others. Her new collection of poems, Nightbloom & Cenote (St. Julian Press, May 2018), was a semifinalist for the 2017 Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, judged by Ilya Kaminsky. She lives in Houston.