For the last time our captain blows the 5:00 A.M. whistle.
For the last time we roll our bedclothes
damp with dew,
to stow them and our five-man tent
in the two-wheeled cart that’s become our home.
The Dutch oven filled with last night’s coals
hangs still warm beneath the oaken bed,
and one last time
we hear the call to circle up for prayer,
a rousing song, and the day’s instructions.
Twelve miles, that’s all that’s left to go.
We wash our faces in the numbing creek,
scrub our sunburned arms and necks with pieces of soap
saved from the old country for this very day.
The men take time to shave
and beat their hats till dust motes dance
in the early sun pulling itself up over Little Mountain,
the one we climbed yesterday.
The girls braid their hair, slick with sugar water,
then tie clean aprons around their waists,
washed last evening and left to dry in moonlight.
Many walked the trail barefoot, the Olsen girls,
young Jimmy Jensen, yet today
they put on their holey shoes
for maybe we’ll shake Brother Brigham’s hand,
drink well water
and slake our thirst at last
with fruit and a glimpse of that salt sea
that’s ebbed and flowed,
one more step, just one more step,
ahead of us, day after day,
like some desert mirage.
Shadows along Emigration Creek,
lined with rough and rangy cottonwoods,
point out the last stretch of road to Zion.
Every morning the shadows have shown us the way.
Today, at journey’s end,
we’ll hear the Nauvoo band play
and we’ll walk, one last time
with our hand-worn friend,
the streets we’ve sung about so many nights
camped on strangely named river banks—
the Platte, Loup Fork, Wood River,
where Sister Sorensen hid herself among the willows
and gave birth to a baby girl.
Thirteen times we crossed the Platte.
Indians carried us on their backs,
while the men ferried our goods across
and floated the emptied carts.
How we pled for the waters to part.
Now we kneel here in the sand, grateful
for every unanswered plea
that proved us.
Faith is the mountain that does not flee,
the water that does not part,
the rock that won’t turn into bread—
instead, marks our dead.
They walk the desert with us today.
Our faith and theirs, wrung drop by drop, blossoms—
red as the promised rose.
For the last time we lift the prop stick
from beneath the cart’s handle.
For the last time we grease the wheels with tallow
and take our accustomed spots, right and left,
front and back,
to push and pull for the very last time,
all that we own,
all that we are,
all that we’ve become
on our wooden cross of a handcart.
We’re tempted to let it have its way at the end,
to hurtle down the hill, an unbridled horse
heading for home.
Yet happy to hold it back one last time
on its steep descent to the valley,
our hearts in our mouths,
our hopes before us.
Oh, how we sing
every last one of the songs,
the mighty Redeemer’s songs
that led us to Zion.