On Going Through Max’s Things

in memory of Max Rizley, Jr., 1956-2001

As sand slips through my fingers at the beach,
Withdrawing swiftly, like the sighing tide,
So slipped your life away beyond my reach,
Out of my earthly grasp, the day you died.

Not all the gathered wisdom of the ages,
Nor modern medicine’s amazing power
Could ever have appended extra pages
Or added to your life a single hour.

And now, I find myself among your books
As, one by one, I pull them from the shelf
And give each parting tome a few last looks,
As yesterday, I looked upon your self.

Methodically, I pack them all away
In boxes, where for years they will be stored,
Removed from sight, hid from the light of day,
Their brittle pages aging and ignored.

What treasures did these books at one time yield!
To your young mind they opened up new spheres;
But now their pages lie forever sealed,
To be forgotten with the passing years.

How quickly all your fleeting years have fled!
The memory of them shall vanish, too,
In afterdays, when I at last lie dead,
Sealed up with your once cherished books and you.

At last, the melancholy job is done;
With grief, I close the boxes that contain
Long years of learning, goals pursued and won,
And dreams the dreamer never did obtain.

Ah, Max! how could it be an easy thing
To put away these remnants of a life
As rich as yours?—Oh, how I feel the sting
Of loss cut deep into me like a knife!

The memory of you is here with me
And felt as tangibly as falling rain,
But you yourself are gone for good, and we
Shall nevermore embrace in life again.



Martin Rizley grew up in Oklahoma and in Texas, and has served in pastoral ministry both in the United States and in Europe. He is currently serving as the pastor of a small evangelical church in the city of Málaga on the southern coast of Spain, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Martin has enjoyed writing and reading poetry as a hobby since his early youth.

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27 Responses

  1. Sally Cook


    This poem is so somber, it is difficult to tell you my thoughts. First, I will just say it is a beautiful understated eulogy which flows along in a stately manner.I think of the river Styx.

    Books? I have always thought of them as mainstays in life, and I sense that you do too. So many tunes i have returned to the poems of my childhood just to refresh myself. I think of one now:
    Dark brown is the river
    Golden is the sand
    It flows along forever
    With trees on either hand

    Robert Louis Stevennson

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Sally, for your reflections on the poem. Although you say it is difficult to express your thoughts about the poem, the adjectives you use– somber, stately, understated– say a great deal. I don´t know if you saw the second poem I posted in the comments section, which speaks of my brother in our childhood years. Though it is also sad in tone, it is not quite as somber as the first poem, in my opinion.

  2. Gigi Ryan

    I felt as if I were in the room, watching you, even glimpsing your heart, as I read this beautiful poem.

    Thank you.

  3. Roy Eugene Peterson

    Martin, first my condolences, then second my recognition of an amazing tribute. Such beautiful memories wrapped up in holding books sparking dreams that shall be put away like we all shall be on our fateful day. Max could not have dreamt of greater love nor eulogy than you expressed in your heartfelt grief as manifested in this poem.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Roy, for your condolences and for you words expressing appreciation of the poem.

  4. Martin Rizley

    To give a little backstory to the poem: Max was my only brother, five years my senior. He died unexpectedly at 45 years old from complications following outpatient surgery after a lifelong battle with kidney disease. Despite the physical challenges he faced, he lived a very productive life as a local columnist and as the editor of a small newspaper on the gulf coast of Texas. He was a well-known figure in the local culture of Galveston Island, his beloved adopted town, where he lived for years. Here is another poem I wrote about our boyhood together:

    To Max

    My brother Max, when we were little tykes,
    I followed you wherever you would go,
    To shopping malls, on long, exhausting hikes
    Through marshy fields, or to the picture show.

    When you would plan to hunt for garden snakes
    Or other reptiles for your private zoo,
    I´d quickly finish off my frosted flakes
    And look at you and say, “Can I go, too?”

    Sometimes, I know, your patience would grow thin
    To have your little brother tag along,
    But in the end, you’d always count me in
    Because the bond between us was so strong.

    Along the winding creek we two would tread,
    Or through the woods, or through the unmown grass,
    And though no word was hardly ever said,
    How swiftly did those silent hours pass!

    A shadow at your heels, I kept close by;
    But with the years, I saw the distance grow
    Between us as our snake hunt, gone awry,
    Led you in places where I could not go.

    Sometimes you´d climb up steep and rocky slopes,
    And I could only stand and watch you climb
    And see you balance, full of fears and hopes,
    With courage on the slippery edge of time.

    Your final days were one long upward climb,
    In your life´s eve, you were a rising star!
    Though tired in flesh, your struggle was sublime–
    But I could only watch you from afar.

    Until one day, you slipped beyond my sight,
    You crossed the upper ridge and dropped from view,
    To leave me weeping in the starry night,
    Blessed to have had a brother such as you.

    You´ve made me proud, dear brother, all my life–
    Your valiant life inspires me to find
    My way up life´s steep slope of joy and strife–
    “Wait up, Max, wait! I’m not that far behind.”

    • Allegra Silberstein

      This second poem is as heart warming as the first and gives added insight into your life journey and the beauty of your brother who was such a blessing in your life.

      • Martin Rizley

        Thank you, Allegra, for your much appreciate feedback. I, too, really feel that each of the two poems serves to contribute to the overall picture conveyed, which is why I posted the second one in the comments section.

  5. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    Martin, ‘Going through Max’s Things’ is heartfelt, beautifully and sensitively written… I especially like the book comparison with stanza 5 being particularly poignant.

    I’ve noticed ‘To Max’ in the comments section, and it does much to enhance the first poem and give a brighter perspective. You paint a wonderful picture of sharing a childhood journey with a beloved brother… with the closing stanza (especially that last beautiful line) shining with the wonder of eternal love. It complements the first poem perfectly.

    Martin, I am truly sorry for your loss… I am certain these precious poetic tributes to Max would make him very proud indeed!

    • Martin Rizley

      I appreciate your thoughtful reflections on the two poems. I love the way you describe the poem “To Max” as a picture of “sharing a childhood journey with a beloved brother.” It is that– a summary of our carefree childhood years, with a sense of foreboding entering the picture as our life experiences began to diverge. As you said, the second poem complements the first in its tone. Thank you for your condolences and your always appreciated comments.

  6. Brian A Yapko

    There are no coincidences. Martin, your heartfelt and beautiful poem has really struck home for me — more than you can realize. I lost my sister early this morning to leukemia. Thank you for giving words to a sorrow I cannot yet grasp let alone articulate.

    • Martin Rizley

      I am so sorry to hear about your sister. If the words of my poem have resonated with you in a special way this morning by giving expression to your own feelings, I am thankful for that. My condolences to you.

  7. Joseph S. Salemi

    My condolences to both Martin and Brian. Things seem to have come together here in ways that no mortal could have arranged.

  8. Cynthia Erlandson

    I agree with all of the above comments. Very few poets can write about a personal sorrow without sounding maudlin; but your poems are not maudlin, Martin; they are profound. My condolences to you, and to Brian.

    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Cynthia, for your feedback. Your words encourage me greatly, for if there is one thing I wish to avoid, it is the contrived sort of emotionalism one associates with maudlin poetry.

  9. James A. Tweedie


    Every year for over 25 years I have spent one week with my older brother hiking and fishing in the High Sierra. He is now 78 years old and we began our week the day your poem was posted. I did not know that Max had been your brother until you made note of it later. Now, your beautiful poem has taken on new meaning for me and in a very personal way as our own “long, exhausting hikes” grow shorter each year and as we trade “steep and rocky slopes” for those less steep.

    “We grieve, but not as others do, who have no hope.”

    • Martin Rizley

      James, I am so glad that you found my words more meaningful in light of your relationship with your own brother. And of course, as a Christian, I agree totally with the reference you make to grieving within the framework of an assured hope– not as the world grieves, without hope.

  10. Margaret Coats

    Martin, these are inspiring tributes to a beloved brother. To me as to others here, they reflect well our similar experiences. I lost a brother who was not much older than Max at the time of his death. The process of dealing with his things occupied me for a long time, and you put into verse many acts and feelings I recall. Shortly after my debut here at SCP, the loss of a sister took me away from poetry for about a year. I can see that the writing of your poems is good in itself, and a good accompaniment to the passage through life and grief. Well done, and as I said at first, inspiring.


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