December 29

I found myself unable to consume
the scallops after reflection—
their whole lives were 
eating and suffocating.

This is much sadder than tortured people—
in extreme pain we leave our bodies
and look down to commit the pain
to memory like studious angels.

The waiter brought me two fortune cookies.
One future was traumatic enough.
I decided to open just one cookie—
the one on my right side.

It said in blue on a thin white strip,
You must learn to love yourself.


The cookie was much less sweet
than my psychiatrist.

Earlier that day he said he was proud
that as my tumors grow
my self-loathing seems to shrink.

My teeth made the cookie blades
that cut my tongue, and I spat it out.

I was seized with a question for Dr. Possick,
but he was on the other coast, fast asleep.

I would've asked
If all of me is the part that's loving
what is left to love?


I was suddenly overwhelmed with certainty
that the second cookie could answer my question.

I imagined the paper as a body—
a second body for me,

baking in a clay oven
half beneath it and half overhead.

I didn't open the cookie, though.
I have to grow up at some point—

my imagination can't always be kicking fate
as if it were the floor at a stupid party.


But when you decide someone has something to say
their silences speak to you too—

The cookie's clear wrapper had a rooster printed on it,
the lamp's reflection made a little sun
clutched by the talons, deep in the clay:

What is left to love
is the part of you that is already dead.


The dead part of me
is very busy preparing heaven for the rest.

He envisions it as a dream cemetery:
no rabbis, wildflowers and scrub everywhere,
rolling hills with nothing marked,

computer chips clipped to the ears of the dead
so that loved ones can visit the exact spot.

He is unskilled with his hands,
but he's moneyed and shouts well.

It's hard to love people committed to projects:
when I tell him he's abusing the labor

he smiles proudly and says, God can only do good,
I can do good and bad.


From The Final Voicemails. Copyright © 2018 by Max Ritvo. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions.