Burying Bones and Becoming Wild…

This post honors the 20th anniversary of my excommunication from the Mormon church by offering an image and a poem.

The image is my attempt to put the bones of my birth culture to rest (hence the text in the speech bubbles which are taken, like a found poem, from a Swamp Thing comic). I used the image as part of the invitation to my 20th anniversary party – which was held at a pub on a Sunday and included both champagne and coffee 😉

The poem chronicles my emancipation.

May this image or these words fit the shape of someone’s wound and bring healing.

First, the image:

burial skeleton swampy

Now the poem:

The original version of the poem was written in a class taught by Patti Trimble – an amazing poet and artist – then honed in a wonderful memoir class taught by the poet, activist, and inspirational womyn Dr. Judy Grahn.  When I explained all of references to Mormon culture and doctrine contained in the poem Judy suggested I create footnotes – so those who are not Mormon can understand the nuances.  I thank her for that suggestion.

Kicking against the Pricks (with endnotes for the doctrinally disinclined)

If you want to hear me read it, click here:

The natural man is an enemy to God…” (The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:19)

“Behold, ere he is aware, he is left unto himself, to kick against the pricks, to persecute the saints, and to fight against God.” (The Doctrine and Covenants 121:38)[i]

If the natural man is an enemy to God

What of the natural woman?[ii]

This daughter of Eve?[iii]

This rib of Adam?[iv]

What of me?

 

For I am more dangerous than he

Unclean,

I bleed, miscarry,

abort, give birth.

Disobedient,

I chew forbidden fruit to

Know good and evil.[v]

 

For scripture decrees,

Thou shalt put off

the enemy of God.[vi]

Scripture is clear.

If I offend, pluck me out.

I must be tamed

or sacrificed.

 

I must kill

the wild,

the instinctive

the pull to solitude

the thirst for scholarship

the longing for childlessness.

 

I must tame

my wild mud feet

my naked star breasts

my secret fire dances

my deep slot canyons

 

I must regulate

my high tides, low tides

moon glow, sun shade

births, rebirths

deaths, redeaths.

 

I must silence

my harsh words

(every word)

my independent thoughts

(every thought)

my doubts

(every doubt)

my desires

(every desire).

 

I must commission

a shell that kneels

a husk sculpted to serve

the father,

any father, God,

bishop, apostle, prophet,

husband, brother, son.

 

For scripture decrees

“Thou shalt become a saint…

willing to submit

to all things

even as a child doth

submit to [her] father.”[vii]

 

Set apart from priesthood power,[viii]

I become meek

Frozen, passive,

agreeable, ever-smiling,

A saint among women

A Latter-day Saint. [ix]

 

Now obedient

bound by covenants,

cloaked in garments

admonished by scriptures

I wear my hair plainly

dress becomingly

bear many children

and serve his meals

hot and on time.

 

I enjoy family outings

(no private adventures)

Spend time with others

(no moments alone)

Inhabit common spaces

(no room of my own)

Display my body as modest

(naked only for his pleasure).

 

Chastened,

I prune, shape, bind

weed, irrigate, uproot

erase, until

pulsing flesh cauterizes

pleasure knobs detach

muscles strip from curves, and

still-forming pearls abort.[x]

 

I come to believe I exist

solely as food

To be served at his table

steamed, salted

with a touch of lemon, and

covered in white sauce

Then easily tossed

over his shoulder

when he is sated

and only my boiled

shell remains.

 

Or maybe not.

 

What if

I leave his table

tell the Fathers

to go fuck themselves

(even though the church

officially forbids

them masturbation) and

kick against the pricks?

 

What if

I refuse sainthood

risk excommunication

risk judgment

risk being cast out?

What if?

 

Leaving isn’t easy.

There are tears

wounded faces

betrayals, anger

gnashing of teeth[xi]

my wailing mother

begging God,

on bent knees

for my safe return.

 

Voices,

(some of them my own),

scream, “Harlot,

covenant breaker,

selfish bitch!

How dare you

shame your family?!

How dare you

break the ancestral chain?! [xii]

How dare you

turn your back on testimony?!”[xiii]

 

Cornered, I squirt

blood from my eyes.[xiv]

Once blinding membranes

slough downstream

in crimson baptism.

Now bled clean,

I see my consent

My slow, voluntary climb

Stone step by stone step

To lie on his altar

a most willing sacrifice

 

In my darkest heart[xv]

the horror, the horror

now lies

not in becoming

the untamed Mistress

but in becoming

the Intended

the Saint

the Sacrifice.

 

Sharpened metal in hand

he climbs where I lie

on the altar waiting.

I pray for a savior

in the thicket,

a ram, a doe,

even a goat[xvi]

Knowing, as a woman,

I cannot be spared.

 

His knife rises.

 

Never bound

I stay the knife

Sit up, then rise

Devour his surprise

Like breast milk

Shed sacred garments[xvii]

like locust skins.

 

I descend, naked

into the fiery wilderness[xviii]

of Moses, of Brigham

of John the Baptist

of Christ Himself.

 

Manna rains from the sky[xix]

Water springs from rocks[xx]

I suck on wild honeycomb[xxi]

Seas divide on my command[xxii]

Promised lands rise

 

I ascend

from deep ocean trenches

covered in barnacles

seaweed draped barriers

against pearl stealing hands

and flesh stripping knives.

 

I climb my own

holy mountains[xxiii].

Carve my own[xxiv]

stone commandments

Preach my own[xxv]

desert sermons.

 

I light bushes on fire[xxvi]

Dance in the whirlwind[xxvii]

Birth my wild self

fluid, slippery, covered

in my own primal blood.

 

No sin

No savior

No redemption

No sacrifice.

No thy will.

Just my will.

 

Wild I am

Natural I am

Untamed I am

Woman I am

 

Finally

I Am.[xxviii]

_________________________________________________________________________________________

[i] (see also The Holy Bible, King James Version, Acts 26:14)

[ii] (see The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:18)

[iii] (see The Doctrine and Covenants 138:39).  Women are also referred to as Daughters of Eve in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) temple ceremony (http://mit.irr.org/mormon-temple-endowment-ceremony)

[iv] Eve was supposedly created by God from Adam’s rib (The Holy Bible, Genesis 2:21-25)

[v] Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS) consider Eve a heroine rather than the cause of all sin.  Eve chose to eat the forbidden fruit and therefore know good from evil.  In fact, Adam and Eve could not have children in the innocence of the Garden of Eden and had to transgress for God’s plan to be successful: “… Adam and Eve made a deliberate choice to partake of the forbidden fruit. Their choice did not come from a desire to disobey the Lord, but from a desire to gain wisdom. Because of this choice, we have the opportunity to come to earth and learn, as Adam and Eve did, how to choose good over evil. Express your gratitude for Adam and Eve and the choice they made.” (Preparing for Exaltation: Teacher’s Manual, (1998), 13–16)

[vi] (see The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:18)

[vii] (see The Book of Mormon, Mosiah 3:18)

[viii] The term “set apart” is typically used when someone is given a calling, or unpaid job, in the church like teaching lessons to the children, or being a Bishop, or becoming a full-time missionary. “Setting apart” is done by the laying on of hands by a priesthood holder.  LDS doctrine explains it this way: “The setting apart is an established practice in the Church and men and women are ‘set apart’ to special responsibility, in ecclesiastical, quorum, and auxiliary positions.” President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985), The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball (1982), 478. Note that women cannot ever set anyone apart as they do not have priesthood authority, which is given only to males.

[ix]The term “Latter-Day Saint” “is a commonly used term for members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” https://www.lds.org/topics/latter-day-saints?lang=eng.  Latter-day Saints are also referred to, usually by people outside of the religion as “Mormons” in reference to LDS adoption of The Book of Mormon as scripture of equal footing to The Holy Bible.

[x] A reference to the “pearl of great price, which is both included in a parable in the New Testament (see Matthew 13:45-46) and to one of the official books of LDS scripture, The Pearl of Great Price.

[xi] “Gnashing of teeth” happens in a place called “outer darkness.” According to LDS doctrine, “outer darkness” is the worst possible destination after the final judgment – the ultimate punishment. The LDS book Gospel Fundamentals explains it like this: “Outer darkness is where Satan and those who have followed him will live. These people will be those who chose to live with Satan. They will not be forgiven. These people will live forever in darkness, sorrow, and suffering with Satan and the spirits who followed him.” (Chapter 36)

[xii] Latter-day Saints believe that they are part of a chain of believers, sealed by the priesthood ordinances which take place inside of holy temples.  This ancestral chain stretches backward and forward into the eternities.  Prophet Gordon B. Hinkley, considered a modern prophet, told listeners in a speech in 1999 “not to become a weak link in the chain of your generations.” He continued: “Your children will have children, as will the children who come after them. Life is a great chain of generations that we in the Church believe must be linked together.” He also said, “It is so important that we pass on without a blemish our inheritance of body and brain and … faith and virtue, untarnished, to the generations who will come after us.” Ensign, February 2000. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/ensign/2000/02/news-of-the-church/do-it-with-a-glad-heart-president-hinckley-advises.html?lang=eng

[xiii] For LDS people, your testimony of the truthfulness of the LDS church is EVERYTHING. Turning your back on a witness from the Holy Ghost, called a testimony, is one of the most heretical acts possible.  In fact, the sharing of testimony is so important that the first Sunday of each month is designated as “fast and testimony meeting” during which individual members go to the pulpit and share their witness of the gospel, or testimony, with the congregation.  As the official LDS website states: “A testimony is a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves His children; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel; that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior’s true Church on the earth; and that the Church is led by a living prophet today. With this foundation, a testimony grows to include all principles of the gospel.” https://www.lds.org/topics/testimony?lang=eng

[xiv] Horned Lizards squirt blood from their eyes as a defense mechanism. “Among the most famous, and spectacular, performers of autohemorrhaging are three species of North American desert-dwelling lizard, Phrynosoma cornutum, P. coronatum, and P. solare, which are commonly known (albeit inaccurately) as horned toads…If the predator is still not intimidated, however, and persists in its attack, the lizard has one final, and quite grotesque, defense mechanism. It uses a series of thin-walled, blood-filled spaces called sinuses found within its eye sockets. When the lizard rapidly increases the blood pressure within these sinuses, it causes the sinus walls to break suddenly. The blood is then forced out in jet-like squirts of crimson droplets. Sometimes, the force with which the lizard squirts this eye-ejected blood is so powerful that it can send sprays shooting up to distances of 4 feet (1.2 m). This bizarre squirting can be repeated several times if necessary, which is usually sufficient to frighten off any predator. Also, the squirted blood may contain a distasteful chemical, which would act as an additional deterrent [sic] to potential predators” (Shuker, 2001:128) Shuker, 2001, The Hidden Powers of Animals: Uncovering the Secrets of Nature. London: Marshall Editions Ltd. 240 p.

[xv] This is a reference to Joseph Conrad’s book Heart of Darkness.  If you do not understand the reference, you should consider reading the book, because providing more detail here would be a huge plot spoiler.

[xvi] “Even a goat” is a reference to the idea that a woman should accept any sacrifice on her behalf, even a substandard one.  According to St. Matthew, it is far preferable to be a sheep rather than a goat: “32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: 33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.” (The Holy Bible, Matthew 25: 32-33)

[xvii] When a man or woman in the LDS Church goes through the sacred temple rites, they begin to wear the temple garment, rather than traditional underwear, under their clothing.  This reminds them of the covenants they made with God during the temple ceremony. The official LDS website explains the garment like this: “In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, there are no outer religious vestments in ordinary worship services. However, many faithful Latter-day Saints wear a garment under their clothing that has deep religious significance. Similar in design to ordinary modest underclothing, it comes in two pieces and is usually referred to as the “temple garment.” http://www.mormonnewsroom.org/article/temple-garments

[xviii] Prophets, and even Jesus Christ, went into the wilderness, or desert, to be taught of God.  Here are examples: Moses (The Holy Bible, Exodus Chapter 3); Brigham (“When Brigham Young died 100 years ago, on August 29, 1877, he was the leader of an empire of 350 towns and cities blossoming in a desert, and he was the prophet—the literal spokesman of God—to over 100,000 people” (England, “Young Brigham”  The New Era, September 1977); John the Baptist (The Holy Bible, Matthew 3:1); and Jesus Christ (The Holy Bible, Luke Chapter 4).

[xix] Manna is food that fell from the sky to feed the Children of Israel in the wilderness (The Holy Bible, Psalms 78:24; Deuteronomy 8:16).  It is important to note that LDS people consider themselves literal descendants of the people of Israel. In fact, each person is encouraged to receive a “patriarchal blessing” which tells them to which tribe of Israel they belong: “Every worthy, baptized member is entitled to and should receive a patriarchal blessing, which provides inspired direction from the Lord” (Handbook 2: Administering the Church [2010], 20.12.1). Patriarchal blessings include a declaration of a person’s lineage in the house of Israel and contain personal counsel from the Lord. As a person studies his or her patriarchal blessing and follows the counsel it contains, it will provide guidance, comfort, and protection.” https://history.lds.org/article/chl-pb?lang=eng#what-is-a-patriarchal-blessing

[xx] God also gave water to the people of Israel: “Who led thee through that great and terrible wilderness, wherein were fiery serpents, and scorpions, and drought, where there was no water; who brought thee forth water out of the rock of flint” (The Holy Bible, Deuteronomy 8:15)

[xxi] A reference to John the Baptist, who ate wild honey and locusts in the wilderness (The Holy Bible, Mark 1:6)

[xxii] References to Moses parting the Red Sea, saving Israel from the armies of Pharaoh and leading them toward the Promised Land (The Holy Bible, Exodus, Chapter 14)

[xxiii] A reference to the many revelations given to prophets at mountaintops (The Holy Bible, Exodus 19:20);

[xxiv] A reference to Moses receiving the ten commandments (The Holy Bible, Exodus chapters 31 and 32)

[xxv] A reference to Christ preaching sermons in the wilderness and mountains (The Holy Bible, Matthew Chapters 5-7)

[xxvi] A reference to the burning bush of Moses (The Holy Bible, Exodus, chapter 3)

[xxvii] Whirlwinds are commonly sent in the Old Testament to punish the wicked (ex: The Holy Bible, Jeremiah 23:19)

[xxviii] What God chose to be called by the people of Israel (The Holy Bible, Exodus 3:14)

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