The Ghost of Heaven

By Carolyn Forché b. 1950 Carolyn Forche
Sleep to sleep through thirty years of night,
a child herself with child,
for whom we searched

through here, or there, amidst
bones still sleeved and trousered,
a spine picked clean, a paint can,
a skull with hair

Sewn into the hem of memory:
God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob,
God not
of philosophers or scholars. God not of poets.

Night to night:
child walking toward me through burning maize
over the clean bones of those whose flesh
was lifted by zopilotes into heaven.

So that is how we ascend!
In the clawed feet of fallen angels.
To be assembled again
in the work rooms of clouds.

She rose from where they found her lying
not far from a water urn, leaving
herself behind on the ground
where they found her, holding her arms
before her as if she were asleep.

That is how she appears to me: a ghost in heaven.
Carrying her arms in her arms.

Blue smoke from corn cribs, flap of wings.
On the walls of the city streets a plague of initials.

Walking through a fire-lit river
to a burning house: dead Singer
sewing machine and piece of dress.

Outside a cashew tree wept
blackened cashews over lamina.

Outside paper fireflies rose to the stars.

Bring penicillin if you can, surgical tape, a whetstone,
mosquito repellent but not the aerosol kind.
Especially bring a syringe for sucking phlegm,
a knife, wooden sticks, a surgical clamp, and plastic bags.

You will need a bottle of cloud
for anesthesia.

Like the flight of a crane
through colorless dreams.

When a leech opens your flesh it leaves a small volcano.
Always pour turpentine over your hair before going to sleep.

Such experiences as these are forgotten
before memory intrudes.

The girl was found (don’t say this)
with a man’s severed head stuffed
into her where a child would have been.
No one knew who the man was.
Another of the dead.
So they had not, after all,
killed a pregnant girl.
This was a relief to them.

That sound in the brush?
A settling of wind in sorghum.

If they capture you, talk.
Talk. Please yes. You heard me
right the first time.

You will be asked who you are.
Eventually, we are all asked who we are.

All who come
All who come into the world
All who come into the world are sent.
Open your curtain of spirit.

Source: Poetry (March 2011).


This poem originally appeared in the March 2011 issue of Poetry magazine

March 2011
 Carolyn  Forché


Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1950, poet, teacher and activist Carolyn Forché has witnessed, thought about, and put into poetry some of the most devastating events of twentieth-century world history. According to Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Book Review, Forché’s ability to wed the “political” with the “personal” places her in the company of such poets as Pablo Neruda, Philip Levine, and Denise Levertov.

An articulate . . .

Continue reading this biography

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.