Irène Mathieu

the tenth eleventh

it’s twelve in the morning
of the tenth eleventh
since it happened.
september, that is.

the breaking, I’m speaking.
I mean the mountains,
when they dissolved into
dusty shadows at our feet,
powdered into lungs like
the fog of bone sand in
the air in a place the world
would have otherwise
forgotten. it used to be quiet
in our valley, masha’Allah,
just the granddaughters growing
their small curls, and the
grandfathers growing old with
the smoke of pipes and stories.

I mean the windows,
when they hemorrhaged,
bodies like blood cells
flowing onto the sidewalk,
the city in screams,
the big apple cored. it used to
be proud in our city, God bless,
but fear has crept among us,
lies on its flat belly beneath
the subways and hisses,
sends its spawn streaming
to all counties in our country.
we used to talk about the
melting pot, but now we never
mention the cauldron in
which we are slowly boiling.

I mean the fig trees,
the fire trucks, the orphans,
the droughts, the body bags,
the bomb-scarred walls,
the ashes, the incantations,
the wails, the vows,
the grit, the shrapnel,
the questions, the infernos,
the boots, the burkas,
the machine guns, the blankets,
the goats, the flags,
the mothers, the winds,
the granddaughters,
the grandfathers,
the smoke,
the stories.

it’s the tenth eleventh at twelve.
the memory in death
asks us to live
God willing,
the eleventh eleventh
will be a less broken


there is freedom even in
oppressive cigarette smoke.
in this part of Europe they toss
ashes like laughs;
powder keg suspended in
an Adriatic embrace.
the time is taut;
their faces drawn.
the call to prayer
echoes from minarets
and it sets her wings alight;
but those lips behind their clouds
of smoke draw in, feverish,
hear the bombs again.
allahu akbar cry the mosques,
and she agrees, but her
price for this magic was an
airline ticket; they paid in
Srebrenica bombs.

border control

his deepest fear was stagnation,
un-movimiento that can capture only

a Haitian born a mountain range away
from Port-au-Prince, Dominican

dulce pooling everywhere but in
the barracks of bateyes.

so for fear he exchanged lunches
for bus trips to Santo Domingo,

where he could certify belonging
with a passport, a ticket to motion

and permission to stay in the
only place he’d ever been.

what do you offer at checkpoints,
outstretch with trembling hands like

one of five daily prayers to
machines guns that make a steel fence?

some passports are etched in
Gazan gazes, refusals to blink,

or the cuneiform on weathered palms
like Rosetta stones of veins and skin.

where I live border control means
brown control: keep the dark-eyed out,

the babies bred into cartels and the
Aztecs’ ancestors who still live under

the Cortes curse confined to Ciudad Juarez,
where women are becoming an

endangered species. if the brown make it
past marble-eyed khakis and are caught

driving, shopping, loving, or learning,
ask them for a passport. if they don’t

speak English, handcuff them –
that’s border control.

Irène Mathieu is a writer and aspiring physician/human rights advocate/global health policy-maker/community organizer from Virginia. She currently attends Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. Previous publications include writings in The Lindenwood Review, The Caribbean Writer, Muzzle Magazine, Damselfly Press, Magnapoets, 34th Parallel, and Haven Magazine. She was a finalist in the Jane’s Press Stories Foundation’s 2010 poetry contest, and her photography and a painting have also appeared in print, in 34th Parallel, The Meadowland Review, and Hinchas de Poesía.

(author retains copyright)