Still Mormon

By Dayna Patterson



Or right-click here to download the audio file: Still Mormon



I’m Mormon the way stars—rubbed out at noon,

robbed by sun—still burn



The way a geode empty of its quartz

is still stone



The way a whisper is still a breath

carved by tongue and teeth



I’m Mormon the way a cathedral is still a cathedral, even after

iconoclasts shatter the windows, decapitate the saints,



blunt their hands, topple their trunks from tiered niches,

tear them from cubbies, pillars, plinths,

a restoration of plain glass letting in

bolts of austere grey silk-light



I’m Mormon the way a Greek Orthodox is primarily Greek

and less orthodox,

my own icons gathered under sky-blue domes—



Madonna of Sagebrush, her foot crushing crickets,

seagull perched on her shoulder,

Liahona in her left hand, sego lily in her right,

beneath her image a red desert

where all may light a beeswax candle to illuminate her

honied look, beneficent smile



The way you can take the girl out of Utah but can’t take Utah

out of the girl, the way my hair and skin settle into dry

heat and Cache Valley smog, my shoulders Wellsville peaks,

my paunch and thighs Wasatch foothills, my veins mapping

Bear River on right and Logan River on left, all their tributaries,



lakes, marshes, canals, brooks, streams, ditches, rills



I’m Mormon the way a swimmer caught in riptide and carried out

makes peace with blue death but wears a thin suit

of hope that her body will be transmuted into



something lovely and holy: sea star, anemone, tiger shark,

more than watermark left to fade on the page, more than a name

writ in water



I’m Mormon the way the deeply drowned tree

ghosting beneath the boat is still tree



The way a sugar maple tapped of its sweetness

stretches its leaves to hold the sun



How the choir keeps singing after the beautiful

organ fails, wind moving through brass pipes

not making a sound, and the singers robed in velvet

continue a capella,

emerald voices floating luminous like curls of prayer-smoke



How the valley dweller watches her mountains glow,

giants jeweled on a wildfire night, how she grows as close as she dares

to damage, to catastrophe, wills the chopper pilot safe journey

from lake to lick of flame



How the valley dweller remembers the green hill

hid in an April shroud



Like the peahen in the empresses’ menagerie

among the glossy, iridescent eyes



Like a kangaroo among the beauty



I’m still Mormon the way a zoo’s golden eagle

worries clipped wings, and also the way a rewilded wolf

tastes captivity in her one chipped tooth



I’m Mormon the way skunk-smell lingers,

long after the boys lure it into the girls’ cabin,

slam a wire cage over its surprise, its vicious



hiss-and-spray, the way the stinkcloud

clings to hair, to skin, to grandmother’s yellow patchwork

quilt the girl should’ve left home but brought for comfort

and how could she know boys could be so mean



I’m Mormon the way ham hock soup is still pork knuckle

is still pig, after slaughterhouse, after blood drains

and butcher’s cut through bone, chopping shank



from leg, metatarsal from tibia, boiling down gristle

and skin to soften the meat and beans



I’m still Mormon the way scars glisten, or angiomas

cauterized from left temple

resurface elsewhere like beads of blood



As the beauty berry tree purples her fruit

in the dusky bloom of autumn night



As the peach tree drops its one swelling

to the ground



I’m Mormon the way a Baroque theater house

combusts in its special effects, gilded ceiling

giving way to open sky and an audience of rain



I’m still Mormon the way an astronaut

watches from the cupola’s seven windows

as sun-slit lifts the dark from earth’s contours



The way a tethered astronaut turns to face the deep

black of space while loving the sun

on her back, the tug of her umbilical



I’m Mormon the way a student graduates in debt

to her alma mater, school of the slowest clock and endless

scripture chase, school of humdrum,



hymn-hum in braided harmony, school of Wonder

Bread, passed hand to hand in chapel hush,

the paper thimbles’ drop a soft percussion



I’m still Mormon the way a poem is a room

and refuses the period’s lock



Still Mormon the way paper gives itself over to

blade and page and pen,

but remembers what it was like to have roots, thick

woody skin, lenticels, xylem,

loved by sunlight in a copse of its kin