Hyrum Smith’s Death Mask

Dayna Patterson


I’d rather interact with a life mask,
plaster imprint of living flesh, cold wet
pressed up against warm dry
skin, eyelids closed

temporarily, breath held

released at last.
At the new
Church History Museum, a stranger
points out the pocked flesh
next to Hyrum’s left
nostril, little volcano
where bullet Vesuviused

through. The image haunts me
more than seer stone’s honey
striations, more than First Vision
versions—all nine—wall mounted
by theater’s exit. More than my exit
five years ago from faith of ancestors
whose dotted line I finger-follow
on the pioneer interactive map
from England across the Atlantic to
Louisiana to Utah. Their faces bright
on bright.
These faces sear:
seer and brother
who brothered on
past the end. The end that stoppered
their glow behind glass.


(And I wish I could see beyond Death’s mask, what lies, what truth lights or darkens, if Death masks more life of a different tone, if Death lies or tells truth as plain as stone–I wish my heart was honey-striped, incandescent core warming a world from a concave shadow where streets glow gold and wingless angels tread air. I wish I could know beyond doubt’s constant quake if April is indeed the cruelest, if all its sprouts are lies. I’m too unwise to untangle the Gordian knot that keeps Death’s mask strapped tight.)


Dayna Patterson is a consulting editor for Bellingham Review, poetry editor for Exponent II Magazine, and founding editor-in-chief of Psaltery & Lyre. She is a co-editor (with Tyler Chadwick and Martin Pulido) of Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry (Peculiar Pages Press 2018). Her poetry has appeared recently in Hotel Amerika, Sugar House Review, Western Humanities Review, and Zone 3, among others. You can discover more at www.daynapatterson.com.