prayers of lead
prayers of limestone and pages for
women’s bodies piled on the side of the freeway, no one rubbernecking.
women’s bodies filling art museums, blocking the paintings.
women’s bodies packing school buses, a whole yellow swarm.
women’s bodies lying in every pew of every cathedral in France
no one singing hymns of their hair, psalms of their palms
their multicolored skins painted in stained glass patches.
every wreck of a shadowed sister thumbs me deeper
into a pile of dust.
what is a woman’s body?
it cannot fit into any room:
the thousand sparks in my feet.
shipwrecks. kisses. whiskey.
soldered melodies. soldiered acquiescences.
brimming frivolities of vital importance.
turns at every turn. paper and strings. stone.
the first time I found salvation it was
in a library, on my knees bent before the spines
of books. before I knew the weight and dimensions
of my prayers I imagined them as nebulous supernovae
trembling toward gravities.
this is without having seen the
women’s bodies, feet to heads, lining dead cotton fields.
women’s bodies filling the cellars of every New England home built before 1950.
women’s bodies in the parking lots of fast food restaurants.
women’s bodies in the basement warehouses of office buildings.
women’s bodies carpeting the floor of the Atlantic, undulating softly forever.
I broke a thumb and a pinky finger once.
they were splinted and fretted over, so that I never
guessed my body could be broken and tossed onto a pile
of women’s bodies that no one recognized. so when I
recognized kneecaps and collarbones I began to pray,
asking the center of the Earth to put our pieces back together.
women’s bodies choking up the space under bridges.
women’s bodies packed vertically in vacant lots.
women’s bodies folded efficiently into plywood crates.
women’s bodies curled around cacti, all dried sockets and clothing of dust.
women’s bodies sleeping their un-sleep in the beds of eighteen-wheelers.
women’s bodies clogging construction sites, bones lined along naked beams.
women’s bodies tangled in mountains of dirt and abandoned machetes.
when you rise from peaceful storied oblivion and
realize your spine can be hunted and broken and no one
really needs the under-floorboard or trash bag or ditch
that will contain your woman’s body, you become unspeakably
sad. you might start preemptively disintegrating.
you had better have a story sewn into the lining of your jacket
when they come for your body. and if that doesn’t save you,
you had better have another body, preferably not a woman’s
Irène Mathieu is a pediatrician, writer, and author of the poetry chapbook the galaxy of origins (dancing girl press). Her poetry, prose, and photography can be found in The Caribbean Writer, The Lindenwood Review, Muzzle Magazine, qarrtsiluni, Extract(s), Diverse Voices Quarterly, Los Angeles Review, Callaloo Journal, HEArt Journal, and elsewhere. She has been a Pushcart Prize nominee, a Callaloo fellow, a Fulbright scholar, and currently is an editor of the humanities section of the Journal of General Internal Medicine. Irène is the 2016 winner of the Bob Kaufman Poetry Prize; her first full-length collection entitled orogeny will be published by Trembling Pillow Press in 2016.