Lake Effect, Spring 2010, Volume 14: What the Dead Tell Us about Heaven and Hell

Brett Ortler


What the Dead Tell Us
about Heaven and Hell

for Sara


They explain it in stories.
In one, there is woman in a garden
of a ruined plantation where the bricks
of the main house burned
long ago, but the terraces are still tended,
and gardenias grow in groups
of three or four. And a man is with her, and he loves her.
But it begins to rain, the water is cold on their skin,
and in that moment he knows he will go north and lose her.
For the first time in his life, he believes in heaven and hell,
not as far-flung countries, but as twin cities,
with skylines in plain sight of one another,
both borders lined with billboards and bright lights,
and he realizes how hard it is to hear the difference
between a city full of worship and one full of wailing
and how easy it is travel                                
from one to the other.