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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.

Max Ritvo

Max Ritvo

Max Ritvo's debut poetry collection, Four Reincarnations, was published by Milkweed Editions in 2016.

by this poet

poem

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

poem
I am writing you from the bathtub
where I am trying to ease my joints.
The pain seems to move from the front half 
of a joint to a back half.

I can’t track it across my body.

My pain is mild but deep—like it’s reminding
my body of something it once was.
It thinks I’m a baby:

Look at the oatmeal prepared
poem

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