Poem of the Week | November 12, 2018

This week we present “the way a flock of black birds sets off in one large wave,” a new poem by Leslie Contreras Schwartz.

Leslie Contreras Schwartz is a native Texan whose roots go back several generations in Houston and whose family is of Mexican heritage. 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 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 semi-finalist for the 2017 Tupelo Press Dorset Prize, judged by Ilya Kaminsky. She is a graduate of The Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College and earned a bachelor’s at Rice University.


the way a flock of black birds sets off in one large wave

if a black

of bullets
takes the universe
of my child / friend / neighbor


just lay my body
down in a field

let it waste
let only the birds

remember my body
and let my child’s name

be contained only
in their unreachable


because no one
will deserve to say
his name, not one person,

as they did so
to keep him alive.

Author’s Note

This poem was a response to friend’s photograph of grackles caught in mid-flight from a parking lot, the whole team of them captured in one giant wave. As a practicing Jewish woman of Mexican heritage, I belong to multiple communities that have been attacked, detained or otherwise vilified in the United States. I felt such tremendous grief after the shooting of 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh, but my grief is complicated by the fact that I experience privilege in certain ways, and I know that this particular grief is not specific to me. People of other marginalized communities, of which I am not a part of (black, queer, LGBTQI, undocumented, Muslim, immigrant), feel their existence threatened on a daily basis. Some grief can be shared, but some belongs wholly to the people who experience it. There are limits to empathy, limits to imagining the truth of other people’s lives. I want to understand my own limit.