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.