Home > Poetry > How Shall We Dress for Heaven?
Published: Thu Oct 15 1981
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
How Shall We Dress for Heaven?

How shall we dress for heaven? Naked
as we come from God’s hand, each limb
as straight and perfect as He could make it,
our skin smooth as silk spun by angel moths?
I think not.
Nakedness only suits those dying young. The rest of us
must hide the sorry sight the world makes of us.
Flowers bud and blossom, the blade rusts
and this body birth makes proud is humbled here
in holding up its head. The spine bows,
the old legs hobble; the clear garment of skin
kinks and wrinkles, stains and blemishes.
When we’re old we hire the beautician
to save our friends the frightening sight of us.
In death we trust the undertaker and
some ultimate dark-handed tailor to make us
all presentable to God.
So dress right, Rodempkin, and take care
your suit is cut in a classic fashion
to please the strictest arbiters of taste.
For I think there may be a dozen heavens
and a style for each of them: Edwardian
heaven, and Western heaven and leather heaven,
Heaven of lace and Heaven of blue jeans.
So we arrive at the pearly gate and there’s a judge
with Truman Capote’s smile
who looks us up and down and says:
“Here’s a double-knit. This way my friend.”
Or “Send this gentleman to Pierre Cardin.”
How would you like to spend eternity
all decked out in the Sears Catalogue?
Take care, Rodempkin, your clothes should match
the Heaven of your dreams, or all your dreams are wasted.


This speech is from Seventh Heaven/A Romance_, a comedy in verse. The hero, Rodempkin, has built a machine to take him to heaven and hell. He has just returned from hell, and in this speech his deceased wife Matilda covers his exit while he dresses himself appropriately for heaven._

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Daniel Mark Epstein has published seven collections of poetry and four biographies, as well as several books of translation and essays. His awards include an award for lifetime achievement from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation. (updated 6/2010)

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