The Big Loser

The guardian angel sits in the tree
above the black lip of street
the man walks down.
He calls the man Cargo.

The angel sees a pinewood box in place of the man,
and the street he walks is a boat,
the hull like a coal crater.

Somewhere in the real world there is such a boat and box.

The angels call these overlays dreams,
and believe they crop up because angels
can’t sleep but want to — 

space falls apart when you have unlimited time.
 


The cargo is rattling in the boat.
Maybe it’s just the waves, maybe it’s rats.
What’s the difference? Either way: it’s the box.

The angel sends the man
a happy vision from his past — the time

he fed birthday cake
to his goldfish
after an unsuccessful party.

The angel thinks he’s applying lemon oil
to the creaky, wounded wood of the box.
He knows it’s palliative, but it’s beautiful.
 


The man reaches the end of the street. He’s a sick man
and he starts to ponder death
as he often does these days:

All of death is right here
— the gods, the dark, a moon.
Where was I expecting death
to take me if everywhere it is
is on earth?

At life’s close, you’re like the child whose parents
step out for a drive — 

everyone else out on a trip,
but the child remains in the familiar bed,
feeling old lumps like new
in the mattress — the lights off — 

not sleeping, for who can sleep
with the promise of a world beyond the door?
 


That night the child dreams
he’s inside the box.

It’s burning hot, the heat coming
from bugs and worms
raping and devouring one another.

He starts the hard work
of the imagination,
learning to minister to the new dream.

Perhaps all that’s needed is a little rain — 
for everyone to drink and have a bath.

Outside: a car humming,
somewhere, his mother’s singing.
This poem is from Four Reincarnations by Max Ritvo (Milkweed Editions, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by Max Ritvo. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.
Source: Poetry (September 2016)