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—
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 Poets.org. 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 Post, Divedapper, and The Los Angeles Review of Books. His radio appearances include NPR’s Only Human, The 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.
Elisa Levant Beaver
Lorna MacKinnon Day
Neyla Bakai Menache
Carol Redford Basso
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