“Heaven” by Daniel Tobin

You love the conveyances of getting there –
through realms of ether by fiery chariot,
by coracle across the Western Sea,
or latched to a flying elephant’s tail,
the beast descended from Indra’s palace
in the Urdu story. Like Black Elk,
you might suddenly be lifted on a cloud
above wide blue plains and piled mountains
to converse at length with stallions of the air.
Or maybe, as in some strange Gnostic spell,
you’ll have to recite the secret names
to rise safely above the region of archons
who quiz the aspirant like border guards,
or bouncers at Zenith, the deity’s exclusive club.
Maybe you’ll travel alone, transported in dream
through porticos of light, so that everything
you’ve done or known or loved falls away
like shed skin, husk of self you leave behind.
Or maybe you’ll ascend the scales with friends,
their names – Hopeful, Faithful, Worldy Wise –
refinements from the gray flux of your life,
so different from those earthly friends
who sustained or failed you, or whom you failed,
your denials dropped like crumbs on the path.
Or maybe in your private l’alta fantasia,
Beatrice is the first crush you had at school
Tricia Bardo, her name the perilous interval
the Buddhist dead endure to escape rebirth
Though where she leads you – the awkward kiss,
closet games like “Seven Minutes in Heaven,”
the travails, failures and short-lived conquests
leading to long love, sweet ease of middle age,
feels more like the journey you already made
than the one you will, the one you still fear.
How hard it is now to believe that nothing
isn’t all after all, that there yet are worlds
where the dead convene in gardens or splendid homes,
naked or clothed in robes, or just in light,
and angels, their bodies unburdened of entropy,
couple for millennia with undying passion
and where History, brutal allegory, evaporates,
so suffering finds redress, the starved are fed,
the dead reassemble in their new spiritual limbs.
At least let the last journey be like Reb Nachman’s,
the celestial orchestra heard faintly at bedtime
until he wandered outside unable to turn back,
only to find himself sustained on air,
and no melodrama of souls whirling upward
in their frozen tornado of eternal praise.
Or let it be like that obscure couple
carved in relief on a cathedral wall,
among the line of souls the only two holding hands,
as though their mortal love persisted undiminished,
the Divine Life subsumed in their simple gesture,
and eternity were only a short walk together
to that still, small place where memory is healed.

– Daniel Tobin

By permission, from Belated Heavens, Four Way Books, © 2010.

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Daniel Tobin is the author of four previous books of poems, numerous essays, and, with Pimone Triplett, Poets Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art (University of Michigan Press, 2008). He has won numerous awards and fellowships, and is currently acting Dean at Emerson College. [Excerpted from Belated Heavens]

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