An Elegy for Malachi Ritscher


Fifth Estate # 380, Spring 2009

Malachi Ritscher (1954-2006)

Malachi, born Mark David,

wrote his own obituary. “Reportedly,”

he says, “his last words were


but what he means

is that he lived his life

like a saucer-faced magnolia flower,

a quick burst of bloom and

perfume early each spring

before the pink things wilt away,

falling to the fiery asphalt

of city summer sidewalks, mashed

underfoot and nothing left of

but dark oily streaks

where the thick petals fall like

flaking, rotten-soft flesh. But,



It was November,

November when he died.

A late tiger lily swallowed

by flame, he made it

look like suicide.

On November 3, 2006, anti-war protester and Chicago art-rock videographer/archivist Malachi Ritscher self-immolated as a demonstration of opposition to the American wars. Near a sign that said, “Thou Shalt Not Kill–As Ye Sow So Shall Ye Reap,” and in front of a steel sculpture called “The Flame of Millenium,” Malachi, draped in an American flag, set himself on fire while his camera filmed his death. His actions received relatively little media coverage, despite (or because of) the poignant immensity of their meaning.