my daughter writes us all a letter
Leslie Contreras Schwartz
  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,
  Michael Brown.
  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.