“Purple Hearts” by Marvin Artis

Marvin Artis


“If I’m gonna die, you’re gonna die with me.”
Words waved by Lashanda Armstrong through her van
before she drives herself and her four little children
into the Hudson River on April 12, 2011.

La’Shaun, her ten-year-old son from her first boyfriend,
refused her invitation, most likely in a quiet and polite manner.
There couldn’t have been time for a loud and dramatic departure.

He planned his escape while she attempted to back the van
out of eight feet of water. As he climbed over her lap
and out of the window, she grabbed his leg and admitted,
“I made a mistake. I made a terrible mistake.”

She let him go. Her death proposal sank. Her dying
admission stuck. He made his way through 25 yards
of ugly, cold Hudson River water back to the road of their departure.
“Help me, help me. Somebody please help me,” he screamed
repeatedly, waving his hands from the side of the road.
The night air surrounding him was skeptical, as pairs of eyes
blinked at him from cars that rolled on without stopping.

A woman’s heart screeched to a halt, and so did her car.
He was rescued by a woman who had never cared for him.
A mother successfully kills her child every three days in America.

Purple hearts and medals of courage for those who survive
the attacks of strangers. Nothing for those who survive
the attacks of loved ones.

A few days later, a picture of La’Shaun, smiling,
appears in the newspaper. He looks like a normal
ten-year-old boy because that’s exactly what he was.

from Rattle #61, Fall 2018
Tribute to First Publication


Marvin Artis: “I was an English major in college, and I started writing what I thought was fiction about ten years ago. I said to the person I was working with, ‘You know, this stuff I’m writing looks more like poetry than prose. Do you think this is poetry?’ And he said, ‘No, there’s all kinds of prose. I think you should just keep pushing the prose.’ But about six years ago I started writing what was coming to mind, and it was absolutely poetry. I’ve read great poets, and I didn’t think my poems at the time were in the same universe of great poetry. I knew I needed some help, but I didn’t quite know how, or what kind of help I could get. One day I was sitting in a café, and there was an old New Yorker magazine on the table. At one time I was a subscriber, but at some point I’d stopped. So I picked it up, and it just so happened to be an issue with one of Diana Goetsch’s poems in it. And I thought, ‘This is stuff I really like. This is a room of poetry I’d like to be in.’ So I googled the name, didn’t know anything about her. I saw that she happened to give workshops. I called, and it just so happened that there was a workshop starting. Her workshops really helped me to get my poems more in the form I wanted them to be in.”

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