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Everyone asks you what the god thinks—
I want to know what you think.
Behind the temple, a short lady
bends in terror over a shallow pond’s edge.
I tell her if she wants opinions
she has to get to the other side
and undress—a bamboo hedge
will tastefully obscure her
—peach and coconut flashes
behind vegetable prison bars—
that the prison is the mind,
that the pond is what we call thought.
She’s not so short her hair
would get muddy—
only the washable robes
I get into the pond and point out a path of rocks,
and my bald head too,
so she may step across.
I tell her to think of my bald head
as a squeaky, dense pill
of white medicine.
She says, Have you been reading Philosophy?
Indeed, I have been reading Philosophy,
and I hate that she didn’t have to think to notice
and grab her hem to drown her,
and instead we’re in the temple
and she’s dancing with the suitcase
I brought all the way from distant, homey Thrace
and the clothes sweetly perfumed with me
are a soul in the leather’s misery
and I dive in the clothes and they stink and rot,
but that’s just the god’s thought.
Your mouth is sealing mine in the mud,
opposite heads from two underbellies
of the pond,
a difficult marvel
flashing in your (not the god’s)
eyes, because I lied to you—
I have been reading not philosophy but medicine,
and my baldness is not wisdom,
and the pond is not thought, but my thought,
which is always on death, like your mouth,
and the mud is marriage lace,
and your opinions are newborn
hares and toads and musical nuggets,
stirring in your organs as the mud hardens.
Max Ritvo’s debut collection, Four Reincarnations, was published by Milkweed Editions shortly after his death on August 23, 2016. In 2018, Milkweed will publish Ritvo’s The Final Voicemails, a collection of early and late poems edited by Louise Glück, as well as Letters from Max, co-authored by Sarah Ruhl.
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in your carpeted office you lay my life down / and say open up to that small room in my sternum.
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