I wanted to act because
I was devoted to other’s imaginations.

Everyone on screen is a ghost
with a famous creator.

The cough started, funnily,
when I was playing a patient
in the back of a trauma ward—

the hero had an unexploded round
embedded in his chest
but the other patients were kept in the dark.

As my health deteriorated,
I was finally confined to my small apartment
in the San Fernando Valley.

A week on the blue bed, static fish on the sheets,
I grew enraged with boredom.

I blamed myself for squandering my mind
on film.

—Now, with my memory and eyes failing,
where was my company?

Shouldn’t my soul be entertainment enough—
the opulent, selfish mystery?

The answer swam into my head
in my mother’s voice:
If you want a little boy to be brilliant,
he needs lavish attention.

And God, too, he was to blame. He never
gave my soul any gifts, so it grew drab and simple.

I was always thinking about what He’d want—

I should’ve prayed for rain powers
and animal powers.

Why is this not praying for one’s soul?
I prayed a life of prayers that I thought God wanted to hear:
Please bring peace to the world,
Please feed the hungry man I saw,
Please help my parents and the Christ Tots Fundraiser,
but none were for my soul.

They were to bargain for Heaven,
which is really just a hospital for souls.

When I get there, I will get there
and it will not be complicated:
I’ll be productive like a wheel,
not like an ox.

Whatever it means to say body there,
no small forms will flock to mine
to set up a scrim of life:

other patients will have fire and flood and feet
on the naked planets of their bodies.

I’m not that sick in Heaven.
I’m wrapped in blue fleece, savagely
appreciative of what is around me:

the unending bags of fructose
and clean syringes labeled Sleep.


Max Ritvo is a poet living in Manhattan. 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 Yale Review, The Boston Reviewand as a Poem-a-Day for He is a poetry editor at Parnassus and a teaching fellow at Columbia University.

Max’s prose and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Huffington PostBoston Review, Blunderbuss,and The Los Angeles Review of Books. His radio appearances include NPR’s Only Human and The Dr. Drew Podcast.