for my best friend, my protector, my mom


There is a world where

all of a son’s battles

are fought by his mother

and in this world

I am one of the great Heroes.


In immaculate black boots

and a war-girdle of linen

she stakes herself in the front lines.


She wields a sorcery stick that calls

bladed chariots, supply caravans, and tornadoes

from over the horizon,

and she’s had just about enough of your nonsense.


Don’t give her that lip.

My mother only accepts commands

from battle itself—

and her allies, dazzled by the purity,

the sincerity, the adoration

with which she gazes into Danger’s eyes,

accept her hand to kiss.


And remember: before you try to tell her

that she’s overvaluing me,

wasting her time on this enterprise,

and wouldn’t she be better off

cutting her losses, finding a new, healthier champion?

My mother signs my name

in the blood of my enemies

and refers to this as her only contract.


Unfortunately, in another world,

Mothers don’t fight the battles

of their sons,

they have their cancers.


In this world, Mother does not fight,

but counts alone.


I see you over there,

dark bead threaded on a string of fire,


I see you, running a black abacus

as water drips on your head

from the ceiling on a dry day,

a large pool forming at your feet.


When you held me up

from the waters—

a flexing, thrashing 100%,

glowing white in your palms,


how strong I must’ve looked

as the waters receded,

like I could’ve lived just as easy

on air, or water, or blood—(and in fact,

had lived on all three of yours.)


And how sad to have watched



73%, and then

the blinking and flashing,


that unhealthy spot near my tail—

the decimal—44.2%


And more decimals making me code

that runs a program for a receipt-generating machine,


and an infinite ribbon of paper

making you scribble out your sadness

to confirm your receipt of child


and in the blinking, colorless increase,

impossible to attend to

a crying boy

you put in a basket of reeds


to secure him through this

white river’s growth:


I will weather this storm—I promise

I can feel you up there counting,


and I know that if I am too weak—

you’ll prop me up on your hands

like when I was a baby,

and you’ll let me count,

but I’ll be counting on you.



Max Ritvo‘s debut collection, Four Reincarnations came out in September 2016 with Milkweed Editions. He was awarded a 2014 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for his chapbook, AEONS. His poetry has also appeared in the New Yorker, POETRY, and as a Poem-a-Day for Ritvo’s eight poem sampler in Boston Review, introduced by Lucie Brock-Broido, was named as one of their top 20 poetry selections published in 2015. He was a poetry editor at Parnassus: Poetry in Review and a teaching fellow at Columbia University. Max’s prose and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Huffington PostDivedapper, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. His radio appearances include NPR’s Only HumanThe New Yorker Radio Hour, and The Dr. Drew Podcast.


Notes/Names  from and of other mothers who lost children to Ewing Sarcoma, as Max did.

Brian and Nancy Strub: Our son Nick died of Ewing’s sarcoma in 2011.  We established the Nick Teddy Foundation in his name, supporting local patients and partnering with 1 Million 4 Anna on research funding.

Dana Wood

Elisa Levant Beaver

Lorna MacKinnon Day

Neyla Bakai Menache

Julie Rundle

Carol Redford Basso

Janet Crowley

Kay Horn Curry


My name is Krista Quinn and my daughter, Kori, passed away after a long battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma.  Kori Elizabeth Quinn 7-8-95 to 2-11-14





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