Two Poems by Max Ritvo



for Victoria

I’d like to take an evening walk
in a city with good weather
and stop into a restaurant.

I want to enjoy the food—
learn something about myself
by tasting it—
and pay the bill.

Then comes the part I really want:
I want some extra energy
that my body was hiding from me—
like a secret coin for a claw machine—

to jolt me back
on the pale street.

Then I’d dip into a second place
and grab some chocolate cake and chat.

Typically, I think of relaxation as the way to spoil myself.
But to really spoil myself I’d like
to exert a little more than I am.

Of course, I need you there
to hide the coins.


You and me, we could rig me up
with liquids, powders, the stuff of the art,
and something similar to my energy
would take me through a night.

But the night would be too planned.
Besides—art that’s close to nature
is never nature.

We’re always so close to living.

But at the start
something breaks, a pot on the window,
the part in the hair,
and we substitute—
some plaster, some loud, nervous humming.

Then the great blessing: something new breaks
before we have put up with what we’ve made.

My New Friend

It was two months ago, walking to the corner store
to feed my wife Kit Kats.

The man had almost no eyebrows
and his suit seemed to be of perfunctory navy.
But when I got closer I noticed
acorns and flowers stitched in the same color.

He said I’m the Soul Eater,
so I assumed he wasn’t real.

My wife couldn’t see him, but soon
large quantities of flour
went missing, and eggs too—
there were bite marks on the bags.

For her sake I set out rodent traps.
I killed all the blood and brains in the building,

but still, the food went, and then the springs
in our daughter’s bed.

Last week I saw him in the bathtub:
he’d filled it with quarters and was popping them
into his mouth.

I thought you were here to eat my soul,
not my money, I tell him
and he shoots back, What’s the difference in a case like this?

I ask him if he is death. He says no.
I ask if he knows death—again I get a no.

He nods his head at his navel, obscured by quarters:
You’re not exactly what I had in mind either…

It seems now, that whatever I look upon with intense love
goes sour. My favorite purse was blasted
to powder and clasps, my blue fish blanket
blacked out with holes.

I argue with my daughter over her declining grades
so she eats in her room, where I can’t slip up
and look at her. I kiss my wife’s feet and hands
only, and with my eyes shut tight.

At night is worst, when I look at nothing.
I dream I am in his stomach,
walking through an unearthly pink cave.

Above me and around me, all the eaten souls are becoming flesh
like little fairy lights hardening into raisins.

So this is deaththe irreducible is simply
the last thing to be reduced, I think to myself.

There are long stretches now where there is no language
in my mind. A pleasure is there

but I couldn’t describe it except as the general current
one feels through all forms
of refreshment: the down of sleep, the up of water.

I’ve talked to the man quite a bit at this point—
and he assures me this isn’t dying. He tells me

dying is only one of many exits a mind can take.
Some minds, the ones who die,
are like a family.

They leave the restaurant all together
and go to sleep in the same home. This is never up for discussion,
never even thought about—
it’s what gets them through the meal.

But some minds are like single friends
set up on blind dates: Call me when you get in safe!,
the friends say as the meal ends.

And if they do call, it’s a wonder, the phone
sending an angel into the house. Silence
is more the norm. Either way, the world beyond
the house is remote and distorted.

No one knows when anyone else truly sleeps.
No one knows when they themselves sleep.
If no one is there to correct your imagination,
how is it not the world?

It’s one way to avoid Hell! the man says,
and he starts to laugh again
but the laugh becomes a cough—
he looks thin these days.

When my heart stops, it will be the end of certain things,
but not the end of things itself.

Sure, my smile is useful, but a chair is useful too.
In the end, I love chairs, and I love dogs,
and I’ll be chairs, and I’ll be dogs
and if I am ever a thought of my widow
I’ll love being that.

Two weeks ago, I hosted a large dinner for my friend’s birthday.
Her husband was out of town, as was my wife.
Something about it was ill-composed,
and it wasn’t the restaurant’s fault.
The food and service were impeccable—
it’s like I sat people to maximize silence.

Some people were born to be guests. Like me.
Next time, I told her, you pick the spot.