Leave Her to Heaven

I’m hoping this poem still works if you haven’t seen Leave Her to Heaven the super Technicolor Noir masterpiece from 1945.  But if you haven’t, here’s the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:

Gene Tierney portrays a beautiful but unstable woman who marries successful novelist Cornel Wilde. Tierney wants to spend all her time with her new husband, but finds it impossible to do so thanks to his work and the frequent visits of family and friends. When Wilde’s crippled younger brother (Darryl Hickman) comes to the couple’s summer house to stay, Ms. Tierney indirectly causes the boy to drown. Later, upon discovering that she’s pregnant, Tierney deliberately falls down the stairs, choosing to miscarry rather than share her husband’s affections with an infant. When it becomes clear that family friend Jeanne Crain is attracted to her husband, Ms. Tierney commits suicide, making her death appear to be murder and framing Crain for the “crime.” In court, Ms. Crain is mercilessly grilled by prosecuting attorney Vincent Price, who happens to be Tierney’s ex-lover! Filmed in lush Technicolor, Leave Her to Heaven is based on the best-selling novel by Ben Ames Williams.

Leave Her To Heaven

Oh, to be beautiful and deeply disturbed

Like Gene Tierney’s Ellen rowing across the cold lake

In her white robe and sunglasses.

Is Ellen’s sexy overbite

the first sign of her illness?

A menacing pout over homemade soup with Cornel Wilde?

No. You can see madness in her shoulders, in short sleeves,

as she rides her horse through the half lit New Mexican prairie,

expertly distributing her father’s ashes from a large urn.

To be crazy is to be indestructible (“Nothing ever happens to Ellen”),

to ride fearlessly along the bony ridge in the coming darkness,

to eat wild turkey sandwiches, enumerating the pleasures of the hunt.

So many dressing gowns! In Maine, the deep sleeves of a monk

Maternity robes, oriental fastenings. Ellen wears blue shoes to her miscarriage,

One heel wedged in the carpet marks her fall down the stairs.

In Maine, in mourning, on the train,

Ellen wears a variety of hats,

a series of festive deceptions.

She is most diabolical in white satin,

shortly after her epiphany in the dressing table mirror,

arsenic in the bath salts, to frame Ruth, the good girl

She does not dig happily in the earth like Ruth.

She does not want a baby.

She does not want a sister.

She wants her family to go back across the water

She wants her husband to throw away his chapters.

She prefers the laboratory to the nursery, the voluminous to the sheer.

‘If only the boy would drown.

If only I could swim through these ashes.

If I could only wear the right shade of green.’

Green cactus shadows.

Green as the Maine sea.

Green train in the brown desert.

Completely green, a stately pine.

A loon call across the lake.

Green inside, the girl surfacing.

While Richard, the poolside novelist types

& good Ruth trims the flower ceiling

above his head.

Ellen glides away, laughing muse in a bathing cap,

raises her hand above the dark water

‘You see, I’m no longer engaged.’

Her lips do not fade in water.

Her lips do not fade when she sleeps.

Her lips do not fade when she reads the dedication of his book.

In the ache beneath the ribs,

in the fresh water hunger,

where the swimmer struggles then sinks,

The woman in the boat

removes her glasses, shouts his name,

dives beneath sound—lake, air, and loon

to the place where

her love is limitless.

The desert’s fluid immensity fills Ellen’s limbs.

Richard hears the anguished shout,

swims in his clothes

as his young wife rises, exhausted in the wake.

Coughing up sun and pine needles,

Ellen struggles to hold the stillness

inside her, cold & emerald,

a serene, breathless depth

where she remains the eager bride,

destroyer of obstacles.


Exposed: The Truth about Fruit Cocktail

So glad that one of our great American poets has finally tackled the mystery of that sweet American horror….

Fruit Cocktail in Light Syrup

Amy Gerstler

Rocket-shaped popsicles that dyed your lips blue
were popular when I was a kid. That era got labeled
“the space age” in honor of some longed-for,
supersonic, utopian future. Another food of my
youth was candy corn, mostly seen on Halloween.
With its striped triangular “kernels” made
of sugar, wax and corn syrup, candy corn
was a nostalgic treat, harkening back to days
when humans grew, rather than manufactured,
food. But what was fruit cocktail’s secret
meaning? It glistened as though varnished.
Faint of taste and watery, it contained anemic
grapes, wrinkled and pale. Also deflated
maraschino cherries. Fan-shaped pineapple
chunks, and squares of bleached peach
and pear completed the scene. Fruit cocktail’s
colorlessness, its lack of connection to anything
living, (like tree, seed or leaf) seemed
cautionary, sad. A bowl of soupy, faded, funeral
fruit. No more nourishing than a child’s
finger painting, masquerading as happy
appetizer, fruit cocktail insisted on pretending
everything was ok. Eating it meant you embraced
tastelessness. It meant you were easily fooled.
It meant you’d pretend semblances,
no matter how pathetic, were real, and that
when things got dicey, you’d spurn the truth.
Eating fruit cocktail meant you might deny
that ghosts whirled throughout the house
and got sucked up the chimney on nights
Dad wadded old newspapers, warned you
away from the hearth, and finally lit a fire.

Shark Toilet, Shark Totem


This shark toilet is so grotesque that I feel obligated to balance the horror with a little spirituality.

If you’re obsessed with sharks like I am, you might have wondered why they manifest in your dreams, plague your waking thoughts and perhaps even haunt your toilet.

Check out this fascinating discussion about shark symbolism.

It may inspire you to start a new religion.

Day 356 6/26/14: The Last Shark

How did this 1981 gem, “The Last Shark,” (a.k.a. “Son Jaws”) ever escape my attention? A quick skim through it reveals lots of people are wearing satin and visors, a guy with an overgrown Robert Shaw mustache and a mayor who refuses to believe the truth. There’s lots of murky underwater shark action, but the Universal Studios style predator reveals himself fully at 1:16 09.

Day 354 6/24/14: “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”

When I was a child, I scanned the TV listings every week. If a Beatles movie was being shown during school hours, I would feign illness or just beg my mother to stay home and watch. She usually relented. I loved everything they did, but “Help!” always blew my mind because of John’s “pit bed” his Dylan-sneer, the rich color, and because let’s face it: they all looked so damned beautiful.This clip, like all things Beatle, is a forever source of inspiration and happiness for me. I would love to hear if The Beatles cast an enduring enchantment on you.

Day 348 6/18/14: Liberation, Extinction & the Power of Jill Clayburgh


Summer school starts next week and I am supposed to be reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s book “The Sixth Extinction” and although I know it will be a well-researched, well-written book, I am avoiding it because I am happy right now in a state of forgetting. Forgetting that we are living through a mass extinction by remembering fragments of  a movie I just watched: “An Unmarried Woman” from 1978.  I am still channeling the weird chunky aesthetic of that time—how many things seemed woven and hippie,(chair backs, art objects) and also oddly preppy—women’s tailored jackets and miscellaneous plaids mixed with futuristic (silver picture frames and lamps). All of these designs carry emotions—hope for the future, a belief in tradition, in the safety and humble things of earth, and my own adolescent memories of art teachers who struggled to make me understand the horizon line and the mothers of friends, women who to my eternal befuddlement had once loved The Beatles, but by the late 70s embraced Anne Murray or Kenny Rogers.

I am thinking of how old movies return one to lost parts of the self. I remember how the red marquee letters spelling AN UNMARRIED WOMAN rose above  the Daniel Webster Highway as my mother and I drove  south to Massachusetts and how the red words made every movie seem like a potential scandal like THE LATE GREAT PLANET EARTH and I remember thinking, “What is it that unmarried women actually do?” Now I know that answer has something to do with cats and volunteer work, but then it felt drenched in sex.

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