January 3, 2013

"Joe Smith" by Emma Hale





I, Joe

When the buckboard stopped in 
     Palmyra Town
I was without schooling or 
     religion, 
A wild ass’s colt, like my father 
     before me. 
I’d had problems back in Bainbridge,

But in Palmyra I was buoyed up with the flotsam of God.
That much I recall. How much time’s passed since then I couldn’t 
     say
I speak to you from the grave without a calendar. 
The passage of time is mostly sand and gravel.

Cumorah Hill







Daddy told me the best time for digging up money
Was in the summer, when the heat caused the buried chests to rise.
I had a peep stone I found digging a well for Mason Chase
Twenty-four feet deep in the ground. Dark it was

But in it I could see worlds, my mind as untrammeled as the West.
I told farmers where the gold was in their fields
By putting my shew stone in my hat and my face inside the hat
To keep out all light but what came from out the stone. 

The Moundbuilders then was all the rage. We all knew 
No savages could have built them mounds, left such works.
It had to be the lost tribe of Ephraim or other of Israel’s sons,
That was my first notion, to write a history of the Moundbuilders

A book to answer the questions of every farmer with a hummock 
     in his pasture.
A history of the Indians was found in Canada at the base of a 
     hollow tree,
Workers on the Erie Canal dug up brass plates along with 
     skeletons--
It was in the air, a spirit moving among the mounds.

One day on the creek I found some beautiful fine white sand.
I tied it up in my frock and taken it home.
When they asked what I had in my tote, it came to me
To say it was the Golden Bible, and they all believed.

What they really wanted first was to believe in me,
And I looked inside myself and found that it was true. I had a gift.
In time I’d make a history of the Red Sons of Israel who built the 
     mounds, 
In due season I would tell them where the Nephites hid their 
     treasure.

I got in trouble though through Emma cause she was the first
Woman I loved, but I couldn’t fool Josiah Hale.
After I took her and married her I had to bring her back.
He told me I was a fraud and couldn’t support a wife. 

Joseph wept.
I admitted I couldn’t see in a stone now, nor never could,
And he let me keep her. 
For Emma, I paid that price.

Later the way I told it was that the spirit came to me,
Or sometimes I said an angel named Moroni,
Dressed me in black clothes, put me on a black horse with a switch 
     tail,
And told me I'd find the book on Cumorah Hill

I was to call out a secret name.
It would be in a stone  box, unsealed
And so near the top of the ground
I could see one end sticking up.
I heaved it up and took out the golden book,

But when I turned round, to my surprise, up rose a great toad
And struck me on the head with a rock.
We wrestled something prodigious. He turned into a devil,
But I wouldn’t let him go.




The plates was writ in reformed Egyptian, I said, so only I could 
     read it
But since I couldn’t write, I set Emma to take down my words.
My word-smithing was slow, since nothing could be revised.
It came to me that the mission of America 

Was to gather the remnants of the house of Israel and bring them 
     to God, 
Thereby hastening the millennium day.
The parts fell together in my mind as I spoke
I’m an unlearned man, but I felt pure intelligence flow.

When the stream ran dry, as at times it would,
I had my Nephite prophets quote the Bible.
Carpers later counted 25,000 words in my book
Consisting of bits from Isaiah used by Ethan Smith.

The writing on the plates, I said, were “Reformed Egyptian”--
Looking back now I see I timed that just right.
Not till 1837 would this Champollion guy read the Rosetta Stone,
Whereas I was already reading my plates. 

Caractors in ancient Egyptian shorthand 
Was what I called them when forced to show a sample.




Indian inscriptions, I'd say, paintings and hieroglyphs 
On the rocks of this continent that only I could read.

To the Nephite record I added the story of the Jaredites.
It told how they had fled the tower of Babel about 2500 B.C.
And so it was Hebrews first came to North America.
I made some bloopers too. I had John baptizing in Bethbara

And Jesus born in Jerusalem
But I turned all that to good account, telling my people
God preferred the weak things of the world, the unlearned and the 
     despised,
As an iron flail to thrash the nations.

January 1, 2013

"No Name" by Samuel Beckett



I don’t know when I died. It always seemed to me that I died old, about ninety years old, and what years, and that my body bore it out, from head to foot. But this evening, alone in my icy bed, I have the feeling I’ll be older than the day, the night, when the sky with all its lights fell upon me, the same I had so often gazed on since my first stumblings on the distant earth. For I’m too frightened this evening to listen to myself rot, waiting for the great red lapses of the heart, the tearings at the caecal walls, and for the slow killings to finish in my skull, the assaults on unshakable pillars, the fornications with corpses. So I’ll tell myself a story, I’ll try and tell myself another story, to try and calm myself, and it’s there. I feel I’ll be old, old, even older than the day I fell calling for help and it came. Or is it possible that in this story I have come back to life, after my death? No, it’s not like me to come back to life, after my death.


From Samuel Beckett, “The Calmative”