Even now, I believe
that to make a person love you,
you just have to do the trick right,
follow a certain order maybe,
or add a clap of the hands,
some sort of hocus-pocus,
and his mouth will open to you
like a cupboard, again and again.
From “A Little Learning”
So Tall it Ends in Heaven is one of the most hauntingly patient and achingly fraught collections of the year, a book with more nuance and precision than most debuts ever achieve. Debut author Jayme Ringleb has mastered the art of language that yearns, of metronomic white space that beats with all the quiet inevitability of an unrequited heart. The collection centers Ringleb’s complex and often traumatic relationship with their father, yet the author resists the tendency to center pain.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this debut is that Ringleb defies the trope of urgency; their poems display a confidence far beyond what I have come to expect from first collections, each line deliberate and resonant without being forceful. So Tall it Ends in Heaven is a perfect example of how to bridge emptiness and longing with a seductively meditative acceptance of circumstances. The poems also exemplify what it means to be vulnerable without being pitiful, to be flawed without being consumed by guilt or self-loathing.
“A Wedding of Jackals,” a long poem that spans the entire third act of the collection, is a brilliantly layered narrative about the speaker’s search for their father. The poem opens with the speaker navigating small towns in Italy to find the father who, from the first two sections of the book, we know has abandoned their son. The first section ends with the speaker promising themself, “I’ll find his workplace and call, pretending to be someone I am not, to see when he’ll arrive home.” This line echoes Ringleb’s ability to juxtapose otherwise simple, unassuming language with powerful nuance. Whereas the speaker is, quite literally, planning to impersonate a character in order to locate their father, the choice of words echoes a continual theme in the book of speaker’s trying to mold themselves into someone worthy of love.
The fifth section of the poem is one of my favorite pages from the entire collection. Here, the speaker leans into a confessional as they recall the day their mother outed them to their father. Readers learn that the exchange was, for the most part, unremarkable. The speaker admits to embellishing the story, working to match the trauma of the men they met at gay bars:
In gay bars the size of double-wides, men would tell me their brutal stories, and I’d tell them my father bunched the papers into a wad and stuffed them in my mouth. I’d say he dragged me by the legs through the parking lot, my hair sweeping up flowers. But nothing happened, really. My father came and left, and I called over a group of friends to go swimming.
The section ends with the speaker describing them and their friends swimming near an old truss bridge, trying to touch a city beneath the surface of the water. The scene closes with the speaker acknowledging, “Not even the boy who surfaced squealing, splinters caught in his toes, was me.”
While the father-son relationship is ever present throughout the collection, Ringleb puts their creative and technical skills on display. Their use of brief, fluid lines that empty onto the page is especially effective as they allow the expansive white space to throb against their images. Other poems, like “Colloquy with Creeper and Beer,” feel more decidedly familiar in their use of long, rhythmic lines formed into couplets. Even here, though, Ringleb’s instantly signature patience is noticeable. Describing the horrific death of a student, they write:
across Hartwell, your neighbor’s student, a freshman,
walked the tracks on a timber truss
spanning a narrow in the lake. Enough booze,
and no one hears a train: the student turned back
and was, it seemed to him, touched on the shoulder
as if by a friend, a word came to him, and he
pulled apart like a wishbone…
The poem chronicles several occurrences during the month of February, 1997, ultimately culminating in the speaker addressing the “you” of the poem as they say, “Tonight is not the night you will step into the light/of traffic…” Against the backdrop of suicide, however, is a brief story of learning to shoot a rifle. Like much of Ringleb’s anecdotes, there is a chasm between what the words say and what Ringleb is sharing with the reader. Here, we can infer that the “you” of the poem was assaulted under the guise of learning to shoot, providing vital backstory and deepening the internalized trauma that drives each person in the poem toward an early death.
So Tall it Ends in Heaven is a remarkable debut, a collection that shows both breadth and a keen ability to carry a central thread across the entirety of the book. Ringleb may be relatively new to the poetry scene but, if this collection is any indication, they are sure to to be a mainstay in American poetics.