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About this poet

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.

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 was 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.

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

Max Ritvo

Max Ritvo

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

by this poet

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

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,


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.