Breast Self-Examination: A Poem

Trigger warning: Sexual abuse.


Slathering Mediterranean Rose bath gel over
my breasts,
preparing for my monthly
hands slipping and sliding as the
sweet-smelling aroma of rose rises
to my nostrils,
taking me away from the present task,
transporting me back to
numerous summer afternoons,
long ago,
alone in my bedroom,
lying on top of my white chenille bedspread
amidst a field of pink and blue
yarn-tufted flowers,
eyes rolled back into my head,
breathing long and steady,
perky nipples perched
atop minute mounds of soft flesh
that in my 13-year old mind
passed for a woman’s breasts,
nipples as hard as
fresh-shucked sweet peas,
the touch of my own hands
lightly pinching
feeling far better than the touch of anyone else or
anyone since,
including that of my Uncle Tony.

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Poem for people who ask me when I “went natural”


I was brought up in a kitchen

with a towel around my neck

and a hot comb hissing

I was born

half past a yellow bone

with fine tooth combs that broke upon third use
I was born with beadies at the back of my neck

brushed quickly in the morning

I was born South Carolina dry

something like twine and cotton

in my grandmother’s hands
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What’s Your Name


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


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.

fr muslim girls who considered suicide when the ummah wasnt enuf

Screen shot 2014-09-22 at 1.05.15 PM

fr mariam , khadijah, fatima, hajar, alla , yall,

fr our communities that hold us,

recite algebraic formulas against evil eye

2 × al fatiha plus 3 astaghfirallahs =

your eyelashes wont fall out

written with such love and concern

fr when we struggle w them

against islamophobia ,

racism , the revolution

do our dawah n make

dua fr you, me, the deen

thinkin abt the dirty linen

we spent all night

folding with our teeth clenched…


Read the rest of this amazing poem, here!

at home

Eds. Note: This powerful poem was inspired by @ImPalestine’s tweet: “I look forward to surviving. If I don’t, remember that I wasn’t Hamas or a militant, nor was I used as a human shield. I was at home.”

like you were at home/
making a taco or kissing your aunt on the cheek
worrying about being childless at 35
when the roof was blown off

like I was at home
thinking about the students I teach
the one with no mother who always asks me
what I am mixed with
the one with clumps of grease in her hair
and long stilt legs who asks me for my email address
and smiles at me for no reason sometimes
what if she was gone?

What if she yelled but no one heard her
over the ambush of sound and bodies
the smoke choking the streets
the blood funneling through drains

we are just little girls with questions
wanting our mothers to pick us up
we are just single mothers without enough money
to buy a hamburger for our children
we are grandfathers with bad legs and whiskey smiles
we are grandmothers working at a donut shop
with pasty hands and glazed eyes
we are dark haired and dark-skinned people in a traffic jam
on the 110
at an Israeli checkpoint trying to go to the doctor
or have a baby
we are Aleya and Malik
our father was choked to death on a street corner
by plain clothes cops laughing that he couldn’t breathe

our mother was making baklava when fire
charred her hair and froze her hot
our brothers were watching that Drake video on youtube
our sisters were modeling with their shirts up
in the mirror and smearing lip gloss on their fingers
our spirits were dancing
while the killing was going
until it was us
at home

Nijla Mu’min is a writer and filmmaker from the East Bay Area. She is a 2007 graduate of UC Berkeley, and also attended Howard University’s MFA Film Program, where she was the recipient of the 2009 Paul Robeson Award for Best Feature Screenplay. She is a 2013 dual-degree graduate of Calarts’ MFA Film Directing and Writing programs; the only student in the institute to graduate with this distinction. Her short film Two Bodies has screened at festivals across the country, including the Pan African Film Festival, Outfest, and Newfest at Lincoln Center. Her writing appears in the critically acclaimed anthology, “Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.” She also writes for Shadow and Act on the Indiewire Network, and Bitch Magazine. She is a recipient of the 2012 Princess Grace Foundation Cary Grant Film Award for her thesis film, Deluge, which had its world premiere at the 4th Annual New Voices in Black Cinema Film Festival at BAMcinematek in March 2014. She was recently selected to participate in the 2nd Annual Sundance Screenwriters Intensive with her script, Noor. She is currently in development on two feature films.