The Land of Heaven by Eleanor Lerman

The Land of Heaven

This is where I want to be: the forgotten bar
in an upstate town on a chilly day. Music banging
in the rafters. Cold fields outside, a pickup
at the curb. Ice in the creek beds, steel in
the sky—and snow. Snow that will clamp down
on the house and freeze the pipes if we
don’t get back. Someone is making dinner
Someone turns on the radio. Someone volunteers
to crawl under the house with a blowtorch and
save the water main if the dog will stand guard
The dog is happy to go anywhere. Just put on
his snappy coat and he’s out the door

So in their name, Love—the bar, the winter,
the dog, the beloved house—I do renounce you
I renounce thee. Go play dress-up in the dance halls
with the pretty boys. Go mock the children
Lie to them. In fact, go paint the centuries with
your lies because I get you now: your jewelry,
your stories, your beating heart fading into
dusky incandescence. An evening memory:
that’s all you are. I banish you. Go away

Or not. Not entirely. Still, better at this age
to travel light. Two hundred miles and the road climbs
into the heavenly land of gorges and granite
As many rumors of lake monsters as abandoned mills
Mills to grind our ghosts into new seasons. Mills of time,
of memory. Mills that churn the stars into a great,
bright river that Love, you are not allowed to cross
I want to cross this river alone, in my own way

And now, is the meal ready? Then friends, it’s time
to go. At the bar, someone is changing a record
that’s been playing over and over again all afternoon,
by request. I’m hungry. I’m a little drunk
In the city, love is howling through the streets
The rest of us are in the land of heaven, laughing
as the wind begins to revise the landscape, sealing
the promise we made to drive each other home

by Eleanor Lerman

Editor’s Note: What is love? In this poem, the narrator explores what it means to be both alone and in love; to want love, and to scorn its messy baggage. The landscape imagery is allegory for the life that love inspires: promises, hills, and heaven.

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