Max Ritvo (1990–2016)

Max Ritvo. Photo: Ashley Woo.


We die. You did, who seemed to have believed this fact. That we are of the nature of dying means that what happened to you in August in Los Angeles is that you went ahead of us. If too far ahead.

I froze on a Brooklyn sidewalk the moment I realized I would no longer be chanting your name as I had for months with everyone in our temple: “Max Ritvo . . . Monastic Senjin . . . May they heal all their ills.”

Did you hear, before you died, that Senjin’s last words were “I’m ready”? I have wondered if you were ready, who wrote:

When my heart stops, it will be the end of certain things,
but not the end of things itself.

Sure, my smile is useful, but a chair is useful too.
In the end, I love chairs, and I love dogs,
and I’ll be chairs, and I’ll be dogs
and if I am ever a thought of my widow
I’ll love being that.

To me (a stranger), of course, this is what you are now: the poem. In it, you have rewritten a line I love, by Robert Duncan, into a full first person: “The source of the song will die away.” In the heart of your writing there is a revision of the tense of thought as well, the “continual-thought-of-dying” (Ingeborg Bachmann). The first words of yours I read were about your future death in retrospect:

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

This vertigo I feel at the sense you were, when writing, “dead already, in an immemorial past” (Maurice Blanchot) comes from the movement of your impossible traversal of past by future perfect. It serves the same purpose that Jacques Derrida attributed to our tendency to speak, as I am here, to the dead as if directly: “to traverse speech at the very point when words fail us.”

To practice, in language, the dead’s relation to time: an injunction to try to live here where, as you say, “we’re always so close to living.”

Abraham Adams is an artist based in New England.