The Poorly Built House

Photo credit: Ashley Woo

by Max Ritvo


Venom’s slopped over my heart. The four chambers

scuttle away from one another

fear-addled, like scorpions


who can only be killed by the venom dripping

from the three others’ tails.


The venom, the doctors tell me, is water.

I’ve never felt so simple. Water is breaking my heart.


Its weight will make me beat myself to death.

I spoil my limbs, keeping them rich

in blood at all costs. What choice, then, do I have?


My darling ticklers and kickers

are obedient, they deserve the spoiling.

Even now, they slavishly cooperate,

shriveling to be easier to feed.


But they’ll never be small enough

to keep my heart from breaking,

there’ll be more water, doctors say, till the roof caves,


the chambers—reserved my whole life

for oozing that blood my muscles love—

will flood suddenly with water:

thin, clear, and cold.


I think my dying has been about my belonging.

My body parts seeking where they belong.

I imagine somewhere, my soul is doing the same.


My hair stinks with sweat,

My nostrils are sour with clouds of blood,

While my hips grow sores crusted over with green, sticky pus.


What, children, was so bad about my order?

The life I picked out for us, with my two eyes and best intentions.


Don’t think I don’t know why. You brats are tearing me up,

sleeping and screaming in the wrong beds,

because you’re crazed by my will,

one in a weak hand, hard to read.


In another world, I was never implanted

with that first cancer, panic—


so I never developed the second cancer, cancer.

In this world we never had to make each other into pills,

or use fevers to keep time.


The air was screwed into our chests

by their growing emptiness.


No horses. Not that we could recognize.

Plant life, just a hard green carpet. Forever. Everywhere.


And if you wanted a ship, too bad, no ship. Or, only ships of moss.

That you ate after. Or that dissolved—


like when a child, a nice, good one,

who makes her bed every morning

and is always back in it at ten o’clock,


fills a forest with war machines,

or lunar landers or dragons. And then leaves,


and, when she thinks back on the camping trip,

remembers only a tent, trail mix, the trees.

Comments are closed.


Publisher & Editor: Herbert LEIBOWITZ
Co-Editor: Ben DOWNING
Associate Editors:
Assistant Editors:
Design and Art Direction: Alyssa VARNER
Printer: Cadmus Press

Contact Us

205 W. 89th St. #8F
New York, NY 10024