Leslie Contreras-Schwartz



We’ve all cracked

in our own ways, are expected to add
to this circle-time story
our own trace of a hairline split

that turned rift
then cut, split into

body-sized hole.
Everybody here with a last-ditch

story that locked us
together, shuffling

room to room, both cold,
heads nodding from meds

that could drone a horse

What’s your story, Vi?
Nadia juts her sharp chin to me.

Was that a dare? I’ve got
nothing to match her fable

of the sharp little pill, the hard
lump of bread

those violent invaders
forced down her throat

into her holy stomach,
her empty sanctuary.

She lifts a hand—claw to face
splendid as a miniature
plant in pale down-  

feathered lanugo flourishing
on the hard shoot of her arm. 

How do I say that we are hungry,
down here, from the bottom of my throat

the lowest hung
branch of myself?


I took the pill that set
every sound to fade

and barely there, but song still
floats to me, as if the entire 

choir plays in my underwaters
subterrestrial hymn, dark cave canticle. 

But I have nowhere to point
Nor any direction to give, no language—

Even the man who can’t stop
fucking every woman, man, and child

points one way or another,
a beast incarnate, between his legs.

Look: I’ve an assembly of people—
a mindscape of a sun-darkened girl
on the beach aggressive motion,
snapshot of childhood,

wide holler.


The librarian, meticulous recorder
of his own dark findings, each head

slammed against the wall categorized
and set to forever. [He sees and remembers all for me.]

The Woman Who Fights, goes about with butcher knife-
baroque in blood and rags.

The girl, mute and comatose, frozen animal
made of fear and sick grief.

The lady hums
nursing and feeding

 tiny sips of water
from a straw to each of them.

All of them
Also humming.

Their bright braided
song into my throat—

I’d been learning to sing
or to hum a little with them

but the melody kept escaping—
How did you find yourself here?

the interventionist counselor asks
as she’s asked the other patients—

a man with gauze on his neck heavy
with fresh blood, the girl in long sleeves

pulled down across her fingers,
fresh cuts poking out from her neckline.

My roommate an older lady retching
into a trash bin,

the rank vodka smell
she carried with her like sadness from room to room.

I was learning to sing,
I hear myself
saying. I was just learning
to sing and I couldn’t keep up
the melody—

but the circle wants
a story’s straight line
to this mental hospital to this room that smells of Clorox and old blood.

You are supposed to say, I wanted to die
so A then B and now C and all of D


I had just begun to want to live: A
I let them speak,

a life could be sung
louder, a wide-open mouth

un-same-same and death: B

instead hummingbird life
full-belly dirge, beak bent to nectar

neck bent to loosened sap.
I open my mouth: warble chorale. I hold up my wrists: C. 

My people started chanting.
this aria,
terrible and beautiful, raggedy,

inner bellow and hiss
cut up sound, bells of self

a sieve or a map
to a place no one wanted to know: D.


A song that everyone wanted to stop—
everyone, everything,

but me. Here are my wrists.
Isn’t this how we talk here?

Show them the wounds
we don’t remember making,

the bottom half of an inning
when everyone is cheering

wildly, all the hollering the crowd
can muster, and they don’t remember why

or who it is that’s running
full steam to base.

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