The City of Joseph

What is this soft array of leaves and light
But morning? The sky opens with the wind
That caps the upper branches like spume,
Whiteness over them sweeping mist that rises
From meadows. And now what is the array of light
As one looks down upon the city’s scape
Of buildings? The places where Joseph came
To find his Zion are in the spell of prophecy,
The sound of vision, and moments of his certainty.
One could believe that trees and buildings might be
Alike if through half-closed eyes the gathering
Of overcast and light might yield green and ochre
Steadily as earth’s visions appear around them
And surely as the events of time that brought
The few together in a home to harvest
Centuries of tendency. What tendencies hover
In a prophecy or dream? The path in a glade
May be the boulevard, and a holy place
May be the place of sacrament, where visions
Come and elide distinctions that diminish
The prospect of meaning. The holy place may be
A room, a shelter of trees, a lake where white
Flickers through a scape of gray and green,
As if moraine where suddenly the crest of land
Keeps the air calm or fleeting.
Canyons open, glistening
Red and green, cliffs and mesas in
a curve away,
The distant mists of glory azure-lidded
And hidden in the vision of an ancient city,
Zarahemla, where towers held the words
That Nephi rendered on India gold. O city,
Your subtle glades of light, your boulevards
Open outward always as if to receive
The steady radiance of sun and sunburst,
Of Arcturus or Orion, Sun, and Aldebaran
Shimmering like leaves. I saw, not long ago,
A little girl close the door of her home in Nauvoo
And go to flowers she had planted by a spring.
The yellow and auburn of her dress, the white knots
In her braided hair, her eyes that kept their blue,
Despite the array they saw, seemed kept in light
In the afternoon. Her mother quietly followed her
To the fence and stood there watching: “Margaret,
You must leave them now. Put those in your hands
Aside and come with me.” “Where, Mother?”
She asked, slowly turning. “We must leave
This home and find our way across the prairie
West.” “Just across the river?” “Westward
Still, to a place called Laramie, and farther on,
Beyond the rising slope, to peaks and canyons
I have never seen.” “Why?” she asked as soon
As she could lay her flowers beside the ones
That remained near the fence. “Because we believe.”
“Mother, why do we believe as we do?” “Joseph
Came and talked to us about a harvesting.”
“But Joseph is gone.” “We believe as he believed.
Come. We must leave Nauvoo, and home, and find
Our way to Laramie.” Later, on the prairie,
The girl and her mother walked together, the wagon
Ahead jostling through grass. Beyond, shadows
Of clouds spilled over a butte, and the red
Of its stone seemed leaden in hollow distances.
“Why do we believe as we do?” The girl dangled
A doll by the arm as she walked, believing
The prophecy of the city west in the mountains,
If not Zarahemla, Deseret, in the span
Of landfall east of the Sierra Nevada range
And the lake nearer still. I have heard
The whisper of the wagon wheels in the canyons,
The prophecy of wind over prairies, the cry
Of hosanna in the gray cirques of vision:
Home, the city is home, the slope of loam
And moraine against the cliffs, the twinkling
Of towns as the evening comes to Zion.
Time elides antiquity and the nearby years.
Margaret came with her doll in her arms,
Believing, and her great, great grandchildren
Gather their children around to tell how she
Came to the valley, stood on a hill to the east,
And cried her devotion.

[illustration] Lettering by James Fedor