The Final Voicemails ||| Parnassus Poetry in Review

I was told my proximity
to the toxin would promote
changes to my thinking, speech, and behavior.

My first thought was, of course,
for the child, the little girl,

but graceful, silent figures
in white suits flitted to her

and led her away by the shoulders, like two friends
taking a turtle from a pond.

My second thought was about pain,
the last thing visible
without our manners—

Or could there be an invisible peace
once the peace of the senses departs?

I’m glad she’s gone, and not just for her sake:
without her I feel somehow better equipped
to be what I am becoming—

which is, I suppose, preoccupied.

Nobody ever tells you how busy loneliness is—

Every night I cover the windows in soap,
and through the night I dart
soap over any lick of light
that makes its way to my desk
or bed or the floor.

At first it was fear—an understanding that the light
was death, was the toxin,
though really the toxin was invisible,
they said, and came from the water.

But work blesses fear
like a holy man blessing a burlapped sinner,
saying It is for you and Because of you,

and in time the working mind
knows only itself, which is loneliness.

Dim sight now,
and each twitch flows
into a deep, old choreography.

Maybe a week ago, my arm banged the faucet,
and I danced
in the middle of the bathroom—
the entire final dance
from the tango class we took
at the gym in New Haven,
with the air as you.

I wasn’t picturing you,
I didn’t smell your damp hair—
don’t imagine that I’m living
in memory.

Whatever I am, it is good at cutting meat.
The trick is: That’s blood.
If you focus your fingers on feeling it,
you cannot mistake yourself for the animal,
who cannot feel; you never cut yourself
if you give your life to the blood you shed.

I know you’ve been waiting for disintegration,
but it just doesn’t seem to be coming.

I need to go out to gather some berries.
No more meat: I’ve adopted your diet.

All this time, I thought my shedding
would expose a core,
I thought I would at least know myself,

but these mild passions, all surface, keep erupting now
like acne—or like those berries on a bush.

Don’t ask me to name them—
I’ve never been that kind of guy.
Red berries—sour, sticky.
If you really want to know,
come here, just try them.

Red as earth,
red as a dying berry,
red as your lips,
red as the last thing I saw
and whatever next thing I will see.



Max Ritvo is a poet living in Manhattan. His debut collection, Four Reincarnations, is slated to appear in November 2016 with Milkweed Editions. He was awarded a 2014 Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship for his chapbook, AEONS. His poetry has also appeared or is forthcoming in the New Yorker, POETRY, and as a Poem-a-Day for

The Final Voicemails” originally appeared in Parnassus Poetry in Review.