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Max Ritvo
Max Ritvo

Cachexia

About this Poem 

“‘Cachexia’ is a poem Max Ritvo wrote during the late stages of his nine-year fight with cancer (Ewing’s sarcoma). Cachexia is known more commonly as  ‘“wasting of the body’” and is present in people with AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. Max noticed the shifts in his appetite and body despite his efforts to eat and maintain nutritional status. Max wrote 'Cachexia' just a few months before he died. It informs the reader about the inner world of a terminally ill young man.”
—Ariella Riva Ritvo

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.

Copyright © 2017 by Max Ritvo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

Copyright © 2017 by Max Ritvo. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on January 19, 2017, by the Academy of American Poets.

collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

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Walt Whitman manuscript
poem

The Leash

After the birthing of bombs of forks and fear,
the frantic automatic weapons unleashed,
the spray of bullets into a crowd holding hands,
that brute sky opening in a slate metal maw
that swallows only the unsayable in each of us, what's
left? Even the hidden nowhere river is poisoned
orange and acidic by a coal mine. How can
you not fear humanity, want to lick the creek
bottom dry to suck the deadly water up into
your own lungs, like venom? Reader, I want to
say, Don't die. Even when silvery fish after fish
comes back belly up, and the country plummets
into a crepitating crater of hatred, isn't there still
something singing? The truth is: I don't know.
But sometimes, I swear I hear it, the wound closing
like a rusted-over garage door, and I can still move
my living limbs into the world without too much
pain, can still marvel at how the dog runs straight
toward the pickup trucks break-necking down
the road, because she thinks she loves them,
because she’s sure, without a doubt, that the loud
roaring things will love her back, her soft small self
alive with desire to share her goddamn enthusiasm,
until I yank the leash back to save her because
I want her to survive forever. Don't die, I say,
and we decide to walk for a bit longer, starlings
high and fevered above us, winter coming to lay
her cold corpse down upon this little plot of earth.
Perhaps, we are always hurtling our body towards
the thing that will obliterate us, begging for love
from the speeding passage of time, and so maybe
like the dog obedient at my heels, we can walk together
peacefully, at least until the next truck comes.

Ada Limón
2016
poem

Burning the Old Year

Letters swallow themselves in seconds.   
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,   
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.

So much of any year is flammable,   
lists of vegetables, partial poems.   
Orange swirling flame of days,   
so little is a stone.

Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,   
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.   
I begin again with the smallest numbers.

Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,   
only the things I didn’t do   
crackle after the blazing dies.
Naomi Shihab Nye
1995