1984
The City of Joseph
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“The City of Joseph,” Ensign, June 1984, 7

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.

Lettering by James Fedor