Martha Serpas

Arrow Boy
April 13, 2012 Serpas Martha

Arrow Boy


They see her as a genie in a pager.

They don’t know how she was dreaming

in the Sleep Room, the Serenity Prayer—


the whole thing, not the AA clip—

taped next to the phone, next to the clock,

next to the Bible, next to the Qur’an,


under the loose vent ticking shut, falling

then rising again. A shredded Styrofoam cup,

a futile fold of paper caught in the gap.


Outside isolation, she wraps herself in green,

booties, gown, a mask spreading

her breath back over her lips and chin,


laminated wings, small as etched coins.

When she crosses from fallen

ward to falling boy, they are waiting,


rubbing the fluorescence from their temples and eyes.

They think someone is here, that something

will happen, but she has arrived to bring


the nothing happening to the something

that is, a boy with a washcloth between his legs

and an arrow’s vane splitting his mother


and his father to either side of his head.

His flesh beads like he is running hard,

a plastic fan swinging like a searchlight.  And


she thinks he might want to talk to her,

if he could, tell her how the point came

flying from its string, from his hand


to his brow—why should he speak to her,

his throat free from the vent,

his eyes calculating the angles of draft?


And she’s sorry to see the tube go. Soon he’ll tuck

his arms to his body like tiny wings, his chest

caving, his toes touching like a baby’s.


His hand reminds her of a high school boy

and his Escape cologne. After their dates

she didn’t bathe and slept with her nose tucked


in her hand. Arrow boy’s lungs soar on their own

over the helipad and the baler on the farm,

over his metallic Mustang where just last week


he was doing his girlfriend in the front seat,

her thigh sending the volume screaming,

the music, the light from the dome, shooting out,


speeding into a dark that did not exist

in a town full of steeples and shocks.

Even now, they think, the Lord could


unwrap him from himself, peel back his

forehead and free the arrow with His hand.

Her prayers, they think, will complete


their faith. Soon they are spirits themselves,

responding only to cadence and heat. Her

cadence. The pitch the Lord might hear


“despite the thing they done that got

their boy this hurt.” Dad thinks he launched the shaft.

Or was it Mom’s remarriage? The words God’s will


falls to the floor toward their blurring wisps.

Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities,

nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,


can separate us from the love of God.

The boy is already the guardian of this message.

She knows he will have to be starved,


his soul drawn out like egg whites from their shells.

The mother is ready. His father still barters. And she

sees the boy rise on invisible scapulars,


already looking at the old couple

like strangers and at the woman holding their hands,

she the torn seal of an envelope blown back behind the door.

Martha Serpas is the author of three collections of poetry, The Diener (LSU); The Dirty Side of the Storm (Norton); and Côte Blanche (New Issues). Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Nation, Southwest Review, and Image: A Journal of the Arts and Religion, as well as in a number of anthologies, including the Library of America’s American Religious Poem and The Art of the Sonnet. She holds degrees in English and creative writing from Louisiana State, New York University, and the University of Houston, and a master of divinity from Yale Divinity School. A native of south Louisiana, she remains active in efforts to restore Louisiana’s wetlands. Since 2006 she has worked as a trauma chaplain at Tampa General Hospital. She teaches in the Creative Writing Program at The University of Houston