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Max Ritvo

1990–2016

Max Ritvo was born on December 19, 1990 in Los Angeles, California. He received a BA from Yale University in 2013 and an MFA from Columbia University in 2016. He is the author of Four Reincarnations (Milkweed Editions, 2016) and Aeons (Poetry Society of America, 2015), selected by Jean Valentine to receive the 2014 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship. In 2012, Ritvo served as an intern at the Academy of American Poets. He passed away on August 23, 2016.

By This Poet

6

Touching the Floor

I touch my palms to the floor
and granite rhinos surge up my arms
and lock in my shoulders.
Water flecks on my back
and my head is shaved
by bladed cream.

But then my time in my body is up
and it’s time for my mind:
It seeks wisdom
and the rhinos fall into a well,
their faces falling apart—

I want to know what their last words are
but their lips are fading into the purple.

I put my hands into the ground again
but rhinos come only for the body
and never for the mind.

I used to want infinite time with my thoughts.
Now I’d prefer to give all my time
to a body that’s dying
from cancer.

Cachexia

Today I woke up in my body
and wasn’t that body anymore.

It’s more like my dog—
for the most part obedient,
warming to me
when I slip it goldfish or toast,

but it sheds.
Can’t get past a simple sit,
stay, turn over. House-trained, but not entirely.

This doesn’t mean it’s time to say goodbye.

I’ve realized the estrangement
is temporary, and for my own good:

My body’s work to break the world
into bricks and sticks
has turned inward.

As all the doors in the world
grow heavy
a big white bed is being put up in my heart.

Earthquake Country Before Final Chemotherapy

For the first time tonight,
as I put my wife to bed
I didn't have to shove her off me.

She turned away in her sleep.

I wondered what was wrong with my chest.

I felt it, and the collar bone
spiked up, and where she'd rest
her cheek were ribs.

Who wants to cuddle a skeleton?

My skeleton wandered from the house
and out onto the street.

He came, after much wandering, to the edge of a bay
where a long bridge headed out—
the kind that hangs itself with steel

and sways as if the wind could take
away its weight.

There were mountains in the distance—
triangles of cardboard—
or perhaps the mist was tricking his eyes.

The instant the mist made him doubtful,
it turned to rain.

The rain covered everything. The holes
in his face were so heavy
he wondered if the water was thickening—
if he was leaching into them.

He panicked. Perhaps he was gunked up
with that disgusting paste,
flesh, all over again.

If I were alive I'd have told him
I was nothing like what he was feeling—

that the rain felt more like
the shell of a crab
than the way I'd held him.

That it felt more like him.

But I wasn't alive—
I was the ghost in the bridge
willing the cars to join me,

telling them that death was not wind,
was not weight,

was not mist,
and certainly not the mountains—

that it was the breaking apart,

the replacement of who, when, how, and where
with what.

When my skeleton looked down
he was corrupted

in the femur by fracture,
something swelling within.

Out of him leaked pink moss.
Water took it away.