Versions of Heaven — Sheryl St. Germain


It’s the early nineties, we’re dancing alone in the house
to a mix-tape I made of REM, my son’s small and we’re wild

with music, which we’ve turned up loud: Calling on, in transit,
calling on, in transit, radio free Europe, radio free Europe,
he’s laughing and turning around and around, we take
a breather, then another one starts: And the train conductor says
Take a break Driver 8, Driver 8 take a break, 

we’re pumped, twisting and high with adrenaline,
and I’ve had a couple glasses of wine.
I kiss his cheek and say one more before bath time:
drums, jangly guitars, you can almost imagine them
singing in some garage:
can’t find my harborcoat, can’t go outside without-ou-ou-out it,
we try to sing along, but those are the only words we understand,
we’re clowns,
laughing, swinging, bowing, twisting until we’re out
of breath, can’t find my harborcoat can’t go outside without it,
we don’t even know what a harborcoat is, but we want one—

breathing hard, I scoop him up,
maybe it’s in the bathtub
I say as he flails, joy,
in my arms.


A summer day, we’re driving somewhere in Iowa,
he’s putting song after song in the CD player for me,

pointing out the beauty of this one, the craft of that:
listen to this, mom, and this, and this—we’re so happy

we’re floating, I don’t know how we’re still in our bodies.


We’re driving again, unable to speak
because of some recent argument,
                        him putting in Uncle Tupelo,
skipping to something without lyrics, Sandusky,
turning it up as loud as it will go.
           That high-tuned guitar melody,
           melancholy and insistent,
           something hard that needs to be said,
                        the clucking banjos fighting to keep it light.

I don’t know if he knows how much I love this song,
how much it means to speak like this.


Ghosthustler. His most successful band,
                       I’m seeing him for the first time in maybe a year,
virtually, on their music video.

His hair’s shorter, a beard.
A keytar’s swung around his shoulder,
the hint of a smile on his face,
                                 your mind aches and your body shakes . . .

I play the video again, just for the smile.


Him, deejaying into the early morning hours,

                        hands and fingers spidering between turntables and computers,
           monster headphones cupping his ears,

fingers pushing buttons

                     as if his life were there.


Every time I think of you I feel shot right through
                                               with a bolt of blue. . .

            We’re dancing at my wedding to the song he picked for the mix:
                                  It’s no problem of mine but it’s a problem I find
                                  living a life I can’t leave behind. . .

            He gives a crooked smile,
                        twirls around as he did when he was a boy,
everything’s fine.


I don’t believe in it, really,
            golden gates, singing choirs of angels, the whole bit,
                        but I like to imagine a place where he might be
                        with the denizens of my childhood faith,

            playing songs for saints,
                  sampling the sounds of angels’ trumpets,
            mixing hip hop versions of Gregorian chants,

 recording the chill sounds of wings fluttering,
                      showing the gone ones how to shuffle angel voices,
how to scat god’s breath.


The truth is he’ll never write another song,
never listen to music, never have children,

never love a woman, never make peace with anyone,
let me say it once: all for a synthetic killer
masquerading as heaven.

                        The truth is, heaven and hell
                        are the same place for an addict.

                        But what, anyway, has truth ever had to do
                        with heaven.


Sheryl St. Germain’s poetry books include Making Bread at Midnight, How Heavy the Breath of God, The Journals of Scheherazade, and Let it Be a Dark Roux: New and Selected Poems. A memoir, Swamp Songs: the Making of an Unruly Woman, was published in 2003, and she co-edited, with Margaret Whitford, Between Song and Story: Essays for the Twenty-First Century. Her most recent book, Navigating Disaster: Sixteen Essays of Love and a Poem of Despair, was released in September of 2012. A new anthology, Words Without Walls: Creative Writing in Alternative Spaces, appeared in 2015 with Trinity University Press. She directs the MFA program in Creative Writing and the Words Without Walls program at Chatham University.