What’s Your Name

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Order Irene’s new collection, the galaxy of origins. Scroll down for audio. 


what’s your name

the heavy chimes
clot the hours
in the air and

my blood asks, do bones
carry future memories
in their marrows?

waiting for a face
that is a mirror, I
turn the page of

a tome that lists
only my name
my name my name.

tonight each cicada sings
its name, the only
one it knows,

and when I stepped out
the door this morning
and a chipmunk

slammed into my shoe, it
couldn’t remember
its name for a moment.

our eyes met – I blurted
sorry, sweetie! its name
I did not know

an emptiness arching
around my tongue
as if to know and say it

could undo our small
collision.


____

IMG_0575Irène Mathieu is a writer and medical student at Vanderbilt University. Before medical school she studied International Relations at the College of William and Mary and completed a Fulbright Fellowship in the Dominican Republic. Irène’s poetry, prose, and photography have been published or are forthcoming in The Caribbean Writer, the Lindenwood Review, Muzzle Magazine, qarrtsiluni, Extract(s), So to Speak, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Love Insha’Allah, Los Angeles Review, Callaloo Journal, HEArt Journal, and elsewhere. She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee and a Callaloo fellow. Her poetry chapbook the galaxy of origins was published in 2014 by Dancing Girl Press. You can read her blog and follow her on Twitter.


Press PAUSE

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Sometimes it’s hard to make sense of everything around you, until it all stops.

That’s where I found myself eight months ago when I fell ill and it forced me to take a medical leave of absence. In and out of the hospital for months, doctors sent me home with painkillers and without answers.

Eventually, my health reached a point where I could no longer work or do everyday activities like exercise, cook, or even drive.  This was a struggle for me, as I’ve been a busybody for as long as I can remember. For the first time in my life, everything came to a standstill–my high-pressure job, bustling social life, and most importantly for me–my ambitions as a young journalist just beginning my career.

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There is No Me, There is Only You

18873_260035020892_8228318_n I’m going back to work. Which seems like a ridiculous thing to say because I’m writing those words with chapped, painful hands, hands that have not stopped moving, even for a full night of sleep, in the three years during which I’ve been a stay-at-home-mom. Honestly, this work has been the most physically and emotionally difficult, and the most spiritually challenging of any I’ve ever done. It wasn’t so hard with my first. One is tiring. Two is crazy-making. At least when they’re within 2 years of each other. Even when you’re parenting with a blessedly devoted husband and father. The need in these little beings is frighteningly constant. The need for me, that is, and I’d never before longed NOT to be needed. It’s not something I would have easily grasped before I had children, how overwhelming it can be. It’s like my neighbor Nancy, who raised five daughters, says: just going to the bathroom by yourself is a break. The way I get through it is by remembering something my teacher, the woman who ran my local dhikr, used to say: “there is no me, there is only you.” To this day, I have no idea whether by that ‘you’ she meant ‘You’, as in, the divine, or whether she meant any other person, in an offering of limitless service to God’s creation. Either way, I’ve found devout selflessness a more useful sentiment than despair at 4 a.m. when I’ve been woken every hour on the hour since 11 p.m. by a beautiful but teething baby. Read the rest of this entry »


ER Love Stories

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As a nurse, I get personal with people real fast. At times, I can be a self-proclaimed personal invader. I have countless stories ranging from walking into family arguments to calling parents to inform them their drunk underage teen needs to be picked up. With all the drama involved with being an ER nurse, sometimes I get the pleasure of hearing peoples life stories. Stories are part of the human connection. Many people like to share their life stories and find a deep sense of pride in sharing their accomplishments, especially some of my older patients.

One day, a frail, elderly Japanese woman come into the hospital complaining of dizziness. As I was doing her assessment I realized she was in her mid-nineties. She laughed while telling me that she was in nearly perfect health minus a couple aches and pains she curbed by doing her aerobic exercises every morning. Soon after my initial examination, her husband – also in his mid-90s – rushed in to her side. He kissed her on the forehead and handed me a list of medications she was currently taking.

With a big smile the husband proudly told me they had been married for nearly seventy-one years. They met while he was delivering mail to the salon where she was working. He told me that he fell in love with the “pretty girl” who sat at the front desk. He said he always made sure her salon was his last stop so he could stay longer without delaying the rest of his deliveries. They were married a month later. She smiled as he recalled the story.

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Serial Husbands

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Recently, one of my friends informed me that her ex-husband was getting remarried. My first thought was that he was already married. Didn’t he just post pictures of himself and his wife on social media? Before I could even ask, she blurted, “I wonder what sister he fooled this time.”

He was on his third marriage within a five year span.

A “serial husband” is one who takes on a wife and divorces her shortly after only to repeat the cycle again. It is not uncommon for these men to jump from marriage to marriage while never taking accountability for their failures and mishaps along the way. As a result of this erratic behavior a trail of broken families and shattered women are left behind. Some of these women remarry. The patient men who skillfully piece these sisters and families back together are some of the backbones in our community. Dealing with a spouse who has been through a traumatic divorce requires open communication and understanding topped off with love.

Some Muslims treat marriage as though it’s glorified dating. In Islam, spouses have rights over one another and any sort of mistreatment can have dire consequences both emotionally as well as spiritually. A partner is not disposable based on your needs and desires. Any marriage you go into, regardless of how long you’ve known the person, is a long-term commitment.

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Half Agony, Half Hope

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“Do you have any children?” a nice woman making small talk asks me.

I reply pleasantly, “No, I don’t,” but my inner monologue is racing.

Children? I don’t have children because  I don’t have a husband.  I don’t have a husband because I never had a romantic relationship with a guy. I never had a boyfriend, I’ve never even been kissed and I’m way older than Drew Barrymore was when she was in that movie with Michael Vartan! I’m older than Jesus ( AS) when he was on this earth! Oh God, what if it’s too late for me to have children?

My inner monologue hysterically wonders about how hot hot flashes actually are, as I smile at the nice lady who’d innocently assumed that a Muslim woman my age is almost certainly married and almost certainly a mother.

I am an unmarried Muslim woman of a certain age. To be honest with you, I’m not surprised that I’m in this demographic.

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The Life and Death of a First Love

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First love can be a bittersweet and intense experience, especially if it is unrequited. It can also change us in ways we may not grasp until much later.

I discovered love for the first time when I was seven years old. He was a distant cousin — one amongst many thanks to my large close-knit family in Lahore, Pakistan. We gravitated towards each other, despite the fact that I was the younger, studious little girl while he was a rambunctious boy. We spent our time mostly play acting in our world of Star Wars, space travels and building blocks.

We were sitting in the dirt one evening when I looked at him in wonder. In my seven-year-old mentality, I realized that I loved this little boy. I wanted to marry him so that we could always play together and build castles and spaceships.

From that moment, I knew he was THE ONE. And I didn’t tell a soul.

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