PAPER DOLL CHAIN
Girls folded in upon girl and
another girl, holding hands of paper
a mask of thick mascara, eye-
liner, owling their eyes
paper dolls for play, holding
hands and repeating
thoughts, solo boats set afloat
by boys and men, pushed
farther still by the white world.
How to anchor except by holding hands with other
girls, girls to size and compare,
how their edges crease or fold more than
yours, how you want that too. That rusty anchor
in my best friend, which I hold onto,
its breast shape and weighted steady
as she practices her hand-smother and the gentle crush
of me. How else are we to prepare for the Mexican boys
now roaming the hallways, their arms
a hanging hook around some brown girl's neck?
Girls wanting to know
what it takes be a woman, how much to erase.
The rubber tip leaving no mark
left of a girl in a woman set inside the body of a man
or a boy. For now, it's a game of that blow
she knows is coming. I let her teach
it to me, practice and practice the art of being
inside other bodies, hers and then his
and his, all those brown, white,
red red bodies.
Those black-beat wings. A rustle in my chest, those balled fist-of-hearts beating like lit
bulbs that click on and off, secret spark. Too many people move about, waist deep in
swamp stench, the doors of buildings breaking into dark waters. No matter to them.
Their bodies glide like liquid, agile, part of this covering up and over. So, hide, little
warriors of fur, blood-rimmed eyes staining the night, the quiet blinking, the barely
breath. Hide to live amid these bloated houses, straining to contain all its things,
cosmetics and laced-up shoes and plastic toys that constantly sing. Because everything
sings, constantly, a radio tune that no one wants to hear but keeps on playing. Those can't
keep my hands to myselfs, those go love yourselves. A smothered piano, a cello, a
symphony, in the tight muscle around my lungs, beating into me like my own bright
blood. I cannot live here if I don't save this hush, this furious sound.
On the photograph "Pleasure and Terrors of Levitation," by Aaron Siskind
spun into air--
a white man containing a woman
containing her crippled
walk, her brown body,
in his limbs, that whip-shaped
hair. He carries
her freedom in his levity,
that will to never fall to earth,
to be held buoyant by nothing
but air and belief in his own brilliance.
O, to be that light,
and to still be weighted
by the body's core of muscles,
bone and tissues, toughing its way
through sinew and blood to move
and be seen, to be allowed to be
a body that moves through the world
at will, that flock of black birds
crashing through the sky
of white starlight. Not
this life of boxes within boxes
Let me be that. Let all women
and girls, men and boys,
be that, stretching their bodies
along the sun-track to God,
not caring how many times
we fall apart and break,
that fall-apart dance so familiar
to us all. All those beautiful broken
spines lined up to make a ladder
to find what is missing.
Leslie Contreras Schwartz is a Mexican-American writer of Maya descent, and a third-generation Houstonian. Her first collection of poetry, Fuego, was published by St. Julian Press in March 2016. She writes poetry, essays, and fiction about the lives of women and girls, particularly as survivors of bodily and psychic trauma. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Collagist, Hermeneutic Chaos, Tinderbox Literary Journal, Houston Chronicle, Catapult, and more. She lives in Houston with her husband and three children.