Vulnerability and Healing in “So Tall It Ends in Heaven”

Raw and intimate, So Tall It Ends in Heaven by Jayme Ringleb follows the emotional path of a queer Southern speaker as he navigates the aftermath of a failed marriage and the restoration of a relationship with his father, a man who long ago rejected his son after learning his son is gay. At times humorous, but mostly inexplicably tender and philosophical, So Tall It Ends in Heaven examines solace, grief, and the healing influence of place.

The collection opens with the poem “Maybe You Are a Certain Man,” a poem that opens with the tender assertion “Maybe you want a good man.” Structured in seven stanzas of four lines each, the poem unfolds as the speaker imagines an act of heroism performed by the “good man” for whom the speaker longs. While the poem’s images of a “good man” saving a dog from a burning house — ”maybe he’s kicking out the walls, / he’s finding a way back,” — are simple and accessible, the poem’s message is complex. As it concludes, the speaker powerfully asserts that control is key:

but you will have to break him.
You will have to
make fire and, like a dog,
wake him in the night.

The poem’s dominant tone establishes the voice and persona that flows through the collection’s remainder — a man whose life resembles “the burning house” from which the “good man” saves the dog. Interestingly enough, in “Maybe You Are a Certain Man,” the poem’s form does not follow its function, and the structure’s rigidity juxtaposes the implication about the speaker’s chaotic environment and relationship.

“Six Valedictions from the Last Night I Loved You” is another poignant poem. Using an experimental form and Baudlerian imagery rooted in nature, the speaker revels in the nostalgic and the existential. Establishing the poem’s philosophical tone is the incorporation of astronomical references such as “the first star / of Ophiuchus” and gorgeous lines like “the stars, being disproportionate and few, / marking his transportation / through dim clusters of failures.” In these lines, the astronomical blends with the personal to create a sense of futility, of inescapable smallness. This theme continues in the second stanza, where the speaker’s starkest, most existential recognition occurs:

As if I were looking only to neglect that we were all
we had, as we neglected those furry, gray
fungus gnats overrunning the bathroom, delicate sadnesses
switching on and off against the illuminated mirror.

The poem concludes simply, yet gorgeously, with the deprecating please “Forgive me / if the self is best // when falling out of love // with the self.” The speaker’s sense of futility suspends readers, and it leaves them hanging loosely, waiting.

Later in the collection, readers discover the poem “Dark Matter.” This fourteen-stanza poem consists of 28 lines, structured in couplets. At this point, the collection returns to the structural rigidity first expressed in “Maybe You Are a Certain Man.” Similarly, “Dark Matter” employs juxtaposition as its poetic force. The speaker confesses to feeling “attended / though I’m alone,” and paranoia becomes a key element: “I think I’ll be / ambushed by possums.” The brief, blunt confessions continue, and the couplets reinforce the speaker’s brutal honesty: “Thirty years, and still // I’ll believe / I am shepherded // by the invisible—.” Again, at the poem’s end, readers find themselves suspended as the speaker boldly professes “It’s almost a heaven, / neglecting you.”

Of course, no one can read So Tall It Ends in Heaven and not recognize the significance of place. Many of the poems utilize direct references and allusions to Italy, the country to which the speaker travels in order to repair his relationship with his father. The essay-like “A Wedding of Jackals” stands as the paramount poem in this regard, and in seven prosaic sections, readers discover not only the simple pleasures associated with eating “on the Temple / of Canova’s stairs what my stomach allows from a Ziplock of salted / sardines” but also the persistence demanded by healing. The most notable section is the poem’s final one, titled “vii. Temple of Venus.” In three imagistic stanzas, readers encounter a quiet, contemplative narrative, where the recognition of personal change is shown, rather than stated. The language and structures are not complex, and the writing reminds readers of a carefully carved, smooth marble sculpture’s curves. The repetition of pronouns like “I” and “he,” as well as the mixing of the first-person narrative with the third, establish the speaker’s slow reconnection with his father. Most significant in this stanza is the repetition of the phrase “I follow him.” The phrase appears three times — at the beginning of the stanza, at the center, and then, finally, as the stanza’s concluding phrase. This concluding phrase is simple, yet it is profound and solidifies the readers’ journey with the speaker.

So Tall It Ends in Heaven is the type of collection seasoned poetry readers expect from established poets in their mid-career. However, in their debut collection, Ringleb immediately offers readers the vulnerable and the accessible. With the tenderness and longing of Dustin Pearson’s A Season in Hell with Rimbaud, So Tall It Ends in Heaven is an unforgettable poetic mosaic. It asks readers to look inward and consider what they truly sacrifice when they live honestly and in accordance with their true self, but more profoundly, it asks them what lengths they will go — and the places they will travel to — in order to heal.

So Tall It Ends in Heaven
By Jayme Ringleb
Tin House
Published September 20, 2022