Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, Finalist: Irène Mathieu


Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician and writer based in Philadelphia. She is the 2016 winner of the Bob Kaufman Poetry Prize and the author two poetry collections, the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press, 2014) and orogeny (Trembling Pillow Press, forthcoming). She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Callaloo fellow, and a Fulbright scholar. Her poetry, prose, and photography also can be found in The Caribbean Writer, Muzzle Magazine, Callaloo Journal, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere.

Irène Mathieu is also more than her bio, and wrote this post’s stunning, stunning poem, one of ten finalists for the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award, chosen by myself out of over 500 poems submitted. The entry fees to the Brittany Noakes Poetry Award go toward a Live Your Dream Award, issued by Soroptimist International of Rittenhouse Square to a single mother who has experienced hardships and wants to go back to school.

theory of multiple theories


I’ve written multiple theories about love.


I’ve watched a robin hop desperately around its mate splayed like a broken fan.

I’ve seen cancer swell under a baby girl’s jaw, and I’ve seen her parents.

I’ve refused goodbyes and have swallowed whole sentences that snagged in my gut, rotted, soaked into my belly until it burned.


misunderstood or perfectly understood I never could say for sure, but I’ve been called a rare bird by a boy and

I’ve seen myself in dreams as a Quetzalcoatl crashing to earth and wondered,

do I have feathers or do I breathe fire?


in the mirror I am supreme witch-goddess of the in-between world where each of us

places the fetal dream of ourselves, a sea of curled and floating ideas

filled with un-words.

in the eyes of the sky I am a drop of sweat.

in the mirror of the past I am a wandering frog, uncommitted to the river or the bank.

years from now I will learn silence.


I’ve drowned stars in a glass of rum

shoved sand under the nail of my thumb

sucked a cigar until it knotted my

stomach into rubber.

it’s what we place between ourselves and everything else that burrows in, bruises.


in the eyes of the earth I am a jar on a pottery wheel, spinning glistening clay guesswork of supreme hands.

I smell like underground.

years from now I will be filled with water.


When I read the opening of this poem, I was instantly engaged. When I read the close, I had to go back to the start. I was so impressed by the pottery imagery, then the mortality, and how the theme of death pervades the poem from start to finish. Because of course, that’s love’s counterpart–loss. Present too in the poem is this theme of struggling to communicate, to truly express one’s self in relation to others and the world. In this deeply personal poem, Irène expresses so much that is universal, one of the marks of an accomplished poem in my eyes.

Congrats to her for her finalist status. To read more of Irène’s work, order her book  the galaxy of origins!

And if you’re wondering what woman she admires, Irène had this to say: “I really admire Nawal El Saadawi, an 84-year-old Egyptian psychiatrist, writer, feminist, and activist. She has never shied away from confronting injustice with powerful words, a quality I aspire to emulate as a physician-writer myself.

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