Two Poems by Irène Mathieu

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy


my mother first wrangled my hair into a fist of nettles
with the blow dryer, every strand hissing anger.
in school photos I was covered by a cumulus canopy —
haloed child of quickening oak boughs, of holy magnolia
spreading, blossoms first, in a righteous dark tangle.

once I was taken to have my hair texturized —
ambivalent, I watched the white chemicals
smoothed over my head, the foil and the heat,
like soldering a robot’s fulgent helmet.
the lye didn’t take. on the way home,

I saw train tracks overgrown by sweet ramps and
            little purple flowers     insistent wisteria winding
through the iron ties    coils of ivy splitting    rotted wood
                        and I could already feel my hair rejecting the
suggestion of straightness.                secretly, I was proud.

             nothing wild can be turned rigid for long —
the twist and drench of a simple thunderstorm undoes
it all.                 the chattering curls burst out with the first wash

          and I emerged from the shower with my head singing,

                                   knowing I held the entropy of a forest in my scalp.



inside you is
a bayou
a lake where the
ghosts you carry
cypress knees up.

someone said the
Choctaw first called
the bowl of water
in your belly
small stream.

you remember
the roughness of your
mother’s fingers as
she made a braided channel
of your hair.

you always had
alligator teeth
the swamp murk
under your tongue
warm and moving

you were always
a biter,
had crawfish curled
inside your wrists
to pinch what dipped
its fingers into the water.

you have heron’s shins
you flit through fields—
taste salt marsh reeds
straws of sugarcane

your eyes
two blue moons
on either end of a month
holding all of time

inside you holding
all of water.

Photo of Irène Mathieu

Photo of Irène Mathieu

Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician and writer based in Philadelphia. Her poetry, prose, and photography can be found in The Caribbean Writer, The Lindenwood Review, Muzzle Magazine, qarrtsiluni, Extract(s), Diverse Voices Quarterly, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Los Angeles Review, Callaloo Journal, Jet Fuel Review, Lime Hawk and elsewhere. She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Callaloo fellow, and a Fulbright scholar. Her poetry chapbook, the galaxy of origins, was published in 2014 by dancing girl press. Irène is the 2016 winner of the Bob Kaufman Poetry Prize; her first full-length collection entitled orogeny is forthcoming from Trembling Pillow Press in 2016.