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Medical Humanities

Her Children Will Have to Say


Irene Mathieu


her children will have to say
that she drank herself to death;
that will be the way the world
understands it.

they will not, in the same breath,
tell how her liver’s tiny swollen cells
burst open, a cascade of suicides,
how their contents spilled into her blood
and turned her yellow as a dying star,
but when their uncle tells them about it later
her daughter will forever picture this:
her mother as a slowly imploding sun,
lighting up the whole hospital room.

if they speak of her, which they rarely will,
her son will speak mostly in curses.
her daughter will speak even less,
but she will become like her mother,
and people will shake their heads and
not speak about the hidden hurt
exploding cells of mother and daughter.

her children will not speak about
the hurt their mother was nursing
with seven half-pints a day, and
no one, including her children,
will ever speak about the way
some secret essence was stolen
when their land was, how with it
went health and medicine and
most of the good secrets.
the folks who would have
brought up all that are gone
and it’s hard to tell a story
when the storytellers are
dying in hospitals and jails,
and the listeners are
small, hurt children
who speak in curses.



Irène Mathieu is a medical student at Vanderbilt University with interests in global public health, activist medicine, and primary care. Irène has been writing ever since she was able to talk, and her published work can be found in The Lindenwood Review, The Caribbean Writer, Muzzle Magazine, Damselfly Press, Magnapoets, Haven Magazine, OVS Magazine, Sole Literary Journal, Protest Poems, qarrtsiluni, 34th Parallel, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Tabula Rasa, and Extract(s). Irène's photography and a painting have also appeared in print, in 34th Parallel, The Meadowland Review, and Hinchas de Poesia. In 2011 she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize.
This poem serves as the counterpiece to the print art "Edward's Syndrome" by Petra Kelsey."  Read the Deputy Editor's Comments for a powerful commentary on both pieces.

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