Listen to “Sorrow and Song” by Mark Bennion
That morning you came to me
I saw the lamp arising in your beard,
a flash of iron and fire
wisping in your robes and hair
dreams full in your mouth like jamid
and your gait uneven on the hardest soil.
I thought I knew what you were about to say,
how sweat and sand would become our clothing,
how silt and thirst would cut
amidst the walking and walking, how we’d
migrate like dunes, carrying the memory
of limestone, rain, and bazaars.
How you said, Jerusalem will burn
until the ash pits rise like mountains
and remnants will be carried away like wood:
that celebratory yet somber look
stung in your eye, your frame shaking
at your own obedience. Together
we swung and fell in this desert refuge,
witnessed our sons turn to tempests,
hunts, lies. The belief that our names,
perhaps, were stamped to tribal codes;
we, the outlaws of Manasseh, plodding past
Aqaba, finding meat in wadis, our flocks
as lost as we were, but submitting
still to the crisping, wilderness sun. How
God chose us to leave when Zephaniah,
Ezekiel and Habakkuk stayed behind,
left to time’s or the dungeon’s swifter,
less fruitful fate. Eight years later we knew
the scorpions, the serpents, the vultures
hovering about; we understood the ruah,
the deadening of salt, the trap-catch between
Jewish pearls and promised land, the
flair of an oasis and the heat stroke
of even the smallest mirage.
Such vassals we were to exile and need,
to passion flourishing in this barren
landscape. The new beginning of sons €”
our concluding harvest €”the lengthening of days
bound to the sea’s endlessness, the energy
of something greener, something more
bountiful and destructive, something more
miraculous than Moses’ call
to the Red Sea. Forgive me, Lehi,
for my complaint and hardness.
I thought I saw the end
as you believed in our beginning.
Praise me, Lehi, for my denial
and acceptance, for my quiet confidence
in a goat-haired tent. You confessed
the vision as I believed the implication
of leaving shekels, pulse, and friendship
for the tough yet merciful cup of prophecy,
the line given to us in our journey
through this burnt offering, unexpected life.
jamid: a hard round food containing goat’s cheese, grass, and various herbs.
wadis: usually dry river beds, except during the rainy season.
ruah: Hebrew word for wind, intellect, or spirit.
This poem originally appeared in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought vol. 38, no. 2, Summer 2005. It recently was published in Mark’s poetry collection Psalm & Selah: a poetic journey through the Book of Mormon [Parables Press, 2009].
For another of Mark’s poems and his bio, go here.