Max Ritvo is dead now.
This is the first poem of his that I really bonded with. There have been so many since then.
I don’t want to center my grieving on the internet, so I called and spoke (cried) with friends, repeatedly, and then made an altar in my house. I sat before it with my roommates and played Max’s voice to it; we listened to Max talking through fluid-filled lungs to listeners of the Dr. Drew show, urging us/them to receive the pervasive and incessant beauty of the world; we listened to Max read “Poem for My Litter” while watching the candles burn.
I once recounted to Max my image of him as an old man, via email on April 29th, 2015, in response to this poem, “One More Question,” from Max’s chapbook AEONS. Here is the poem:
My response, sent just before midnight:
“Here is another story:
I just re-read “One More Question” and I think that people don’t support it because it does not resonate with what they know to be true: when they fast forward and look back on your life you are not a dying boy you are an old, old man with so many wishes come true
a handsome old bald man with a lean physique and a little belly who cooks like a master and can be in headstand for ages and takes each day at a meaningful pace and has a garden and reads from a mountain of good books stacked on bookshelves among plants and there are delicate little tchotchkes in all the right places and sometimes the grandkids knock them over but the old man doesn’t care
the old man is so happily partnered with a radiant soulmate and he still loves performance and readings and often hosts them in his house
he has a naughty sense of humor and favors the young ones with twinkles in their eye; he slips them little secrets at dinner
you are often in nature and always surrounded by love
I am in your kitchen making you tea
we can be old tomorrow and die tomorrow but that is not what I am saying
Even if this is not true that is not what I am saying
I am saying, “When the sobbing pigs come think of the old man.””
He was moved to tears (in a good way). Still now I see him, wrinkled, pot-bellied; gardening.
Still now I want to text him; I’d say, “I can’t believe you are dead.”
I want to say I feel him walking around on the other side of things, and maybe I do, but mostly I feel a gaping hole in front of the curtain where he is not. I keep falling into it.
Max, to use a Maggie Nelson-ism: I saw the bright pith of your soul. You helped me to believe in a life of joy. And to use a Ritvo-ism: you lit up all at once and then you left, burning a hole in the world. You left your body-wallet, Max. I keep patting the air and you are not there.
Rest in Peace, beloved-of-the-world.
by Max Ritvo
When I was about to die
my body lit up
like when I leave my house
without my wallet.
What am I missing? I ask
patting my chest
and I am missing everything living
that won’t come with me
into this sunny afternoon
—my body lights up for life
like all the wishes being granted in a fountain
at the same instant—
all the coins burning the fountain dry—
and I give my breath
to a small bird-shaped pipe.
In the distance, behind several voices
haggling, I hear a sound like heads
clicking together. Like a game of pool,
played with people by machines.