“Heaven, I’m in Heaven”

Reading Lisel Mueller’s

JANUARY AFTERNOON, WITH BILLIE HOLIDAY
For Studs Terkel


Her voice shifts as if it were light,
from chalk to parchment to oil.
I think of the sun this morning,
how many knives were flashed
through black, compliant trees;
now she has aged it with her singing,
turned it to milk thinned with water,
a poor people’s sun, enough
knowledge to go around.

I want to dance, to bend
as gradually as a flower,
release a ball in slow motion
to follow in the marvelous path
of an unfolding jet streak,
love’s expansive finger
across the cheek of the sky,
“Heaven, I’m in heaven…”

The foolish old songs were right,
the heart does, actually, ache
from trying to push beyond
itself, this room, the world,
all that can be imagined;
space is not enough space
for its sudden immensity …

I am not what you think
This is not what I wanted


Desire has no object, it simply happens,
rises and floats, lighter than air-
but she knows that. Her voice scrapes
against the innocent words of the song;
tomorrow is something she remembers.

led me to this uTube segment,



which led me to the lyrics:


Heaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek
Heaven, I’m in heaven
And the cares that hung around me through the week
Seem to vanish like a gambler’s lucky streak
When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek
Oh I love to climb a mountain
And reach the highest peak
But it doesn’t thrill me half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek
Oh I love to go out fishing
In a river or a creek
But I don’t enjoy it half as much
As dancing cheek to cheek
Dance with me
I want my arms about you
That charm about you
Will carry me through…
To heaven, I’m in heaven
And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak
And I seem to find the happiness I seek
When we’re out together dancing, out together dancing
Out together dancing cheek to cheek

Of course I’ve heard of Billie Holiday, but she was closer to my father’s generation than mine, and I don’t think they ever owned any of her records. Still, the lyrics seemed remarkably familiar. Wondering where I’d heard the song, I looked it up in Wikipedia only to be amazed by how many artists had recorded the song.

It didn’t take much more reflection to realize that I’ve been listening to the song quite alot recently, Eva Cassiday’s version



Judging from this song’s continuing popularity, Lisel must be correct when she states, “The foolish old songs were right,” for it’s doubtful they could become classics unless they appeal to basic emotions that span the generations.

The most interesting line in the poem, at least for me, though, is “Desire has no object, it simply happens,/rises and floats, lighter than air-/ but she knows that.” It is, after all the song, and not dancing with a particular loved one, that appeals to us, that somehow manages to increase our desire for love all by itself, simply by being heard.

One thought on ““Heaven, I’m in Heaven”

  1. Those old songs weren’t foolish, they were subtle and light-hearted and innocent in a way that we can hardly comprehend today.

    My fave: Her voice scrapes against the innocent words of the song; tomorrow is something she remembers.

What do you think?