Joseph Smith’s Death Mask

Dayna Patterson

Lacking time travel, this pale imprint
is perhaps as close as I can get
to a ghost, the slope of nose prominent,
chin cleft, broad forehead,
and those sensuous lips
like a woman’s. They smile (almost), serene, withhold
a trove that slant rhymes with eternity

(stories hearth-spun for family gathered
around his boyhood, gifted
treasure-seeker, angel see-er, farmhand
to famous
God-talker, first
one wife and then all that followed
furtively, three masonic knocks
and aproned waists, mummies
with papyrus funerary texts signed Abraham,
not Book of the Dead, horses thundering
Pre-Columbian America)

an imperturbable penetralia, those shut lips,
prison of secrets, plaster-cast tomb, prophet tome
(Oh enigma whose shrouded legacy

I shuck, charisma seeping a century)
those closed lips
sealed like so many plates,
golden shining silent still stilled mum shush


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