Poets Online Archive
June 2005

Heaven is an afterlife concept found in many world religions or spiritual philosophies.  Without dealing with any religious associations of heaven, Mark Doty looks at personal heavens in several of his poems.

I chose Mark's poem "Heaven for Stanley" about poet Stanley Kunitz for this prompt. He finds Stanley's heaven there in Kunitz's Provincetown garden. The poem does not attempt to define a heaven directly. The gift of a plant inspires Doty to see that Kunitz is in his heaven while in his garden.  In another poem by Mark Doty, " Heaven for Helen", he looks more directly at a personal heaven.

In your poem, write about a personal vision of heaven - here on Earth or in the afterlife, for yourself or another. This is a personal vision and not a research assignment and certainly not a call for essays on religious definitions.

listen listen to Mark Doty read "Heaven for Stanley" and talk about its origin (from a poetry series on NPR's The Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC)
Mark Doty's "Heaven for Stanley," is from his collection School of the Arts, published by HarperCollins. Doty is widely considered to be one of the most important writers of his generation, and he's the only American ever to have received Britain's T.S. Eliot Prize. Mark Doty was born in 1953.
His previous books are Source (HarperCollins, 2002); Sweet Machine (1998); Atlantis (1995), My Alexandria (1993), chosen by Philip Levine for the National Poetry Series, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and Britain's T. S. Eliot Prize, and was also a National Book Award finalist; Bethlehem in Broad Daylight (1991); and Turtle, Swan (1987).
He has also published Heaven's Coast: A Memoir (1996), which won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, and Firebird (HarperCollins, 1999), an autobiography.
He lives in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and Houston, Texas, where he teaches at the University of Houston. more about books by Mark Doty


My heaven is a place in which to lose myself.
But I do not desire constant immersion. It will make me
Want to scratch to provide a change of pace.
My heaven is a place of immersion in continuous change.
There are all sorts of people in my heaven to mingle with, to enjoy.
They bring pieces of their lives
Into the streets of the city for me.
My heaven is not some far off land of green and quiet
In which to chase butterflies and plant.
My heaven is the variegated City of New York.
(No need for lists to catalog its splendors.)
I rather be in this imperfect perfection than in any other so-called heaven.
(With time out for trips to elsewhere.)

Ellen Kaplan


There are no birds of paradise in paradise.
What inhabits there has no need to fly.

Rats create pietas out of pizza crusts
then waste away in hunger for their art.

Wine glasses leave rings
on the wood inside all the coffins.

What was the name for the nameless
god we forgot to believe in while we could?

The Hustle and the Frug are just other names
for the Reaper.  Kafkaing the night away--

ha-cha-cha!--the band never slows the pace
even to clean the saliva out of their bones.

A tickertape parade of prayer cards, and all of us
in open cars like astronauts come from pretty far out,

a little tender still from molting scapulars. 
We look heavy on all the TVs: immortality adds ten pounds.

R.G. Evans


The poetry of Israel and Palestine
lie next to each other, cry out
in their mutual pain.
Their shared grief mingles as I shift between pages,
just as their shed blood mingles
in the hills and deserts of their shared earth,
where olives grow and aloe, wormwood and gall,
where visions of heaven grip the indivisible land.
We are told some have ascended from there directly to heaven,
escaped from grief and pain to the paradise of oblivion,
where their spirits dissipate,
as their bodies, returned to the soil,
wait to nourish new generations
of olives and aloe, wormwood and gall.

Marvin Lurie


The afterlife must take care of itself
like unfathomable things do
Before our future beyond the future
there are within us anticipations
outside manmade lines
more rewarding than
gold streets and pearly gates
without a pawn shop for cashing in

Morning at five is pure peace
without hurried worldly worries
A walk with a two year old’s fingers
held in a confident palm
The majesty of panoramic scenery
for anyone daring to climb
Sweet spring garden strawberries
unchanged by tasteless hormones

Deep in the heart we know ecstasy
in the cry of a newborn
Feeling whole again while
hugging a reconciled old friend
Being honored for volunteer work
by friends who also serve
Hearing a near-departed
whisper a final I love you

Heaven’s promises after such living
had better be out of this world

F. William Broome


Two days ago we sat poolside
at the fun end of your old
friend’s multimillion dollar home
overlooking a smoggy city.
I searched for words to praise
the decor, the couches
so full of designer pillows
no one could sit down;
the oriental rugs I was afraid
to walk on. "Mi casa
es su casa
," your friend
declared, but
it wasn’t true. It took us
all of yesterday to drive
500 miles of frantic four-lane
in the sultry melt of a holiday
weekend. Heaven
is the comfortable squalor
of this bungalow, our heaps
of unfiled poems, my own
breath filling my own space.

Taylor Graham


I wonder if she knows,
That lithesome leggy beauty,
That while we sit here
Enfolded in rapture
She's touching heaven
With the unfolding of her arms.

Back in the studio
Alone with my glimpses and my failures
I chase the heaven she touches
My body stretches and opens itself
In supplication and humbleness
Taking what comes.

In the simple steps my feet trace,
Paving the path to heaven,
It is enough to just be here
Imperfect and clumsy
One step at a time
Pointed toe
Arched spine
Fingers dropping dew
In this place
Where time stretches out
Blurring reality
Mists falling down around me
Where the striving for an ideal
Is holy
Heaven drops
Right there with resin
On the floor.

Cecly Placenti


My daughter remembers
The three foot long green plaster Anjou pear
That hangs in front of the Grand Union on 86th
In the Yorkville section of Manhattan.

She must have stood under
To wonder if it could come lose and fall
Or she reached from her stroller
To touch the smooth green innocence.

I add to what she says,
When she asks if it will last
Forever, forever is her young life
The forever is our memory;
In the hands of what touches us,
And who we have touched

Edward N. Halperin


I know there were moments when I was there:
when I thought that my father said we would ride a fairy to the island
that summer morning barefoot in dew grass
a winter afternoon with book and tea by my window
watching snow fall
before knowing that every irritation does not form a pearl
and now,
in moments
when I am still able to flex
my muscle of grace or forgiveness,
I believe it exists,
as does the river
in the driest season,
a river of dirt and stones,
wanting water.

Lianna Wright

Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
        -Gerard Manley Hopkins

It is still blue.
Like the painted heaven
on the wall of Saint Leo's church
that I stared at all those years.
Though now I know the light at the blue end
of the spectrum doesn't make the journey
from the sun to our eyes,
being dispersed into air and water molecules
to make that blue sky.
I am still here.
Staring at the horizon of sky and ocean
and trying to walk through a day of beliefs,
rather than wearing it once a week
and then hanging it in the closet.

Ken Ronkowitz