“Poem for Max Ritvo, Perhaps” by Mark Wagenaar

Mark Wagenaar


As for me I arrived a day late
with postage due. A day late
& a buck short, big league

in a ghost town. I began
as a glimmer in a cat’s eye.
In my bones were great trees

full of darkness, swelling
with cricket song. The rain
had gone hoarse reciting

the names of the dead.
In the mirrors great clouds
roamed, as distant & untouchable

as tumors. The moon
was my inheritance.
My instructions were to love

mercy. A day late, & late
to your songs, Max,
which reached me in a place

of sudden water, little town
with two tracks running
through, little town sponsored

by Oxy & Mountain Dew,
& I didn’t know what was
inside my bones until

I heard your songs, whether
it was a dream or the rain—
as when you descend a stone

stairway in Paris & wonder
if they’re the same ones
as in Doisneau’s photograph,

you know the one,
a musician beside the gleaming
road holds his umbrella

for his cello, stairs vanishing
behind him, or when you bend
down to one of the cold rails

brittle with moonlight & feel
for the tremble, the slight
shudder that heaven leaves

in the rails as it sails on
past the sleeping prairies,
as when I wonder if my life

will be measured by the mercy
I have shown (though I’ve
deserved none) or against

the weight of the wings
steering by starlight in the skies
above, as when I can’t remember

what I am missing, & it’s
everything breathing &
falling, & your name,

which has been placed
upon the tongues of rain,
but right now it’s after midnight

& I’m walking beneath
the great trees full of night
wind in their top reaches,

& I just heard someone say
I miss Paris, let’s go back
tomorrow we’ll be in Paris

& maybe in the morning
someone will lean out a window
to tell us that everyone’s okay.

Poets Respond
August 28, 2016

[download audio]


Mark Wagenaar: “I wrote a poem about/for the poet Max Ritvo, who passed away Thursday. I re-read a number of his poems yesterday, and after watching half of ‘Jules & Jim’ I walked the dog through late night small town Indiana streets. A number of his lines had been echoing through me, mixed in with lines from the film, & I dreamed about both, but don’t recall specifics. Anyways I felt strange about writing this one, but had the chance to spend the better part of the day on it, & just felt haunted by his poems & his passing.” (website)

Rattle Logo