Max Ritvo Photo by Ashley Woo
My joints are full of dewy lights
like the restaurant’s buzz
when my table is ready.
In a healthy person, red gum takes the light,
and gulps it up
to a room where it spills out a shade.
But now’s the part of my dying
where all the muscles vanish.
The lights look packed like roe.
It’s like Moon Lander Day,
when I told the class
the light’s there to crack up
if I land too hard.
My brain was, to be, at this point, bathed in morphine—
your comfort to speak about me,
near the darling amulet.
The sweet spot of your foot-touching,
toggling off the harsh room,
to a happy bunny channel.
Instead my mouth keeps gnashing my loved ones
with intervention from a similar world.
I kept a double for everything this whole time,
and now, as the original falters,
I keep pulling up something malodorous,
routinely drained and doused in soap.
I know you want a regular brunch,
with no complaint the brunch is happening a room over,
and in it my joke’s much funnier
since the eggs are actually bloody with sun.
And Frank is making the crucial play-along face.
But this play is beyond my control.
If you don’t pass the salt,
there’s just one other thing left to pass—me.
Initially, all of god’s creatures roamed the land as immortals.
The bears clawed and belched along happily for a good sixty years.
But aging was something God hadn’t planned for.
Forty years in, the foot pads desiccated.
The teeth cracked on salmon bone,
and the poor bears lived in perpetual hunger.
Hunger was also never part of God’s plan,
but mix-ups happen in the confection
of miracles, just as they would in any cake
where everything depends on the frosting.
Eventually the hearts stopped working,
and the brains went rotten.
But something divine rolled the bones around
in the gray meat, and kept dark sounds
pumping out the muzzles.
The hardest part of any job is staring your failures in the face.
It’s to hold yourself accountable. In such reverie, inflamed by guilt
He never asked for, a dirty bulb popped up over God’s head.
He came up with the idea of Death.
It was an effective, if harsh, way to smash back
to mud the little figurines He’d made
without understanding how in Them
suffering compounds naturally—it’s just part of time passing.
Not the only solution, probably. But the one being offered.
Death came from out God’s nostrils—a sealed, pinched smile
symbolizing his newfound cool.
Where the winds went, they forced the crops
to the earth, withered and white.
White as this new thing in the sky,
cold and bulky but graceful.
The bear takes the flakes into his lungs—
which is all that’s left to see of the bear.
Look through the lungs. Holy.
Like stained glass finally trapped the light.
A FINAL WALK WITH MY NEPHEW
Will power is of course, breakable,
has been broken, in everyone, everything.
But it always comes back to scratch at the screen door,
a dark red shape in its mouth,
brought back from abandon.
Look at what it’s up against:
If death builds a sword ever more abrupt, flashing, invisible,
then what kind of shield do you expect us to build?
There’s a black hallway we’re all dipping into and out of,
all our souls slamming doors like in Scooby Doo.
And he doesn’t ever get us.
We just leave parts behind the doors
that we sometimes stumble back on again
if we happen to try the same door.
And eventually? Enough gets left behind.
Heaven? Sure there’s still Heaven.
It’s like this:
a fish leaps out of the water
and onto some grass by the roadside.
He can move so fast out there,
without water crushing his spine.
It’s like discovering he’s a guitar string,
meant to go faster than he’d realized—
all the gut he is sweetening
beyond reason into a note
as his body finds its place
in the silver flash that shuts out his mind,
out of air. There’s more air now
than he even knows what to do with—
he melts in it like ice cream in a cone.
This isn’t helping, I can tell.
Take this pill instead.
Somebody guessed just what life was like,
and then made a pill for it.
It’s my favorite—vanilla I think.
Don’t you worry, all that scared old sweat
will be washed away with white new sweat.
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. Max died in 2016.