Two Movements for Martell Epperson

posted Feb 19, 2008

Dearest Marie,

            There's this rope around my son's waist,
city he's towing like some glacier
            across our cornfield. Forget my romance

            with bricks stacked like loaves of bread.
We have little Detroit castles
            crumbling all over our field.

            That city of stone where blackbirds
buzz in and out of windows
            blown open by rocks.

            Martell is emptying his pockets.
There’s a man in an orange vest tonight
            wandering among those piles.

            He's following a blood trail through
the scruff of prairie grass.
            Just a few weeks ago Julie dreamed

            our son held his BB gun
to her head
            and pulled the trigger.

            I was his Big Brother last summer
riding the roller coasters then dropping him off
            at his own little castle.

            It floats so close to our house
the front doors are kissing. Glass shatter
            on his porch someone had swept

            into a sparkling pile. We were chins up
to the brick-sized window on his front door
            crying into an empty house for his mom:

            “Annie? Annie, you in there?“ My brother
Benny out of his cherry SUV and we gather ourselves
            around this boy and what to do.

            We’re two loaves of white bread
on Martell's porch and I'm scribbling a note to his mom.
            “I'm so sorry, Mr. Rybicki,” Martell says,

            tears in a landslide down his cheeks.
Days later, when we key into her house,
            Martell crosses the hardwood floor

            to the bullet holes.
The walls seem so fleshy and tall.
            He slips his fingers in

            the holes and leaves them there.
He’s at the bottom of a climbing wall
            wanting to scale his way up the sky.

            And so this hawk of a boy lights in our nest.
I don’t know how to hug him right.
            There’s something sharp like a city

            in between us. So I warm his blanket
in the dryer and cover him sleeping on the sofa.
            He moves in and on the third day

            his lungs go bad—he’s a wheezer like I am.
I pour medicine from a vial and breathe with him
            when he hookahs mist into his lungs.

            When he comes out of sleep, he flashes
his face at me, an oil spill made of boy light.
            “Hey Scooty Puff Daddy Senior,” he says.

            “Hey Venison Meatball Rex,” I call back.
What we say every syllable after that is for the first time.
            Martell and I do Speed Racer mornings,

            my coffee all rock-a-bye up our driveway
as he snatches off the dashboard a sliding plate
            of toast. We're off to school

            in the dark with that hawk of light in the east.
At night he races marbles along the counter
            slope doing wind sprints. “They're football players,”

            he says and lets them roll and bump heads.
Then he’s whispering, “Go-go-go fire defense,”
            playing coach to a bunch of marbles.

            I’m fire in the wood stove and stir the pot,
and out of nowhere this boy who once swallowed gasoline
            on a dare is dangling his Fancy Hamster Ginger

            so her back paws light on his little skateboard.
I’m talking rubber band wars where cowboys
            dive for cover, bullets whizzing past

            our book shelves, or taking off an ear.
So many miracles our roof’s no more
            than the lid to a baby grand tilted up

            so the singing can ring and rafter up.
“You’re living two lives now,” I tell him rolling out
            of Detroit in my truck with glass tabletops,

            sofas, plastic fruit (his mom is being evicted).
“You slip your arms out of a fur coat made of bricks.
            And when we get home, trade it

            for a fur coat made of cornfields.”
He smiles one deep breath and says,
            “I like the fur coat made of corn the best.”

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Dearest Marie,

            Your letter brought music to our branches
after so hard a day here. Today Martell smacked
            in the head a little boy named Hunter.

            Tonight we gathered in the field with his teachers,
principal, basketball coach and lay hands on
            his old house, that whale thrown up on our land.

            And when the good boy gets tired
and drains out of him, we haul our son to Lake Michigan.
            He’s such a beautiful kite

smacking up and down the dunes.
The light on the water and sand he loots
            into his pockets and shoes.

            At home he paints on his bedroom wall
freighters and beach fires and waves
            that spray out at you.

            In the foreground, there’s a black dot
of a boy with a white mom and dad.
            The boy’s flying up the wall holding our hands.

            The sand Martell brought back,
he piles on his bed sheets shaping it into castles
            and hills.

            I have seen him bow to his snare drum
and place his mouth inside it
            like he’s drinking from a birdbath

            or shimmering pool—the drum skin vibrating
so its molecules flow in and out.
            He hawks his wings over the drumhead,

            but Julie and I are gone. We’re out in the field
tearing bread from the cornerstone of some old house,
            gathering warm bits for under his pillow

John Rybicki is the author of Yellow-Haired Girl with Spider, Traveling at High Speeds, and We Bed Down into Water. His poetry has appeared in Poetry, TriQuarterly, Bomb, 5-trope, Ploughshares, North American Review, and elsewhere. He has work forthcoming in Best American Poetry 2008.

His poem “Julie Ovary Song” appeared in Issue 17; his poems “Smoke,” “Brother,” and “Yellow-Haired Girl with Spider“ appeared in Issue 10.

He is Associate Professor of English and Writer-in Residence at Alma College. He also teaches creative writing to children who have experienced trauma or loss. He lives in Detroit with his wife and son.