Two Poems

The insistent cadence of “We Had a Time of Year Called Summer” and “Sphinx with the Head of the Prophet Joseph Smith” pull you along as surely as Parley P. Pratt was pulled down the Weber River in 1850.

Two Poems

The insistent cadence of “We Had a Time of Year Called Summer” and “Sphinx with the Head of the Prophet Joseph Smith” pull you along as surely as Parley P. Pratt was pulled down the Weber River in 1850.

Samuel Cheney
no. 8, The Road Trip Issue
Autumn 2022

We Had a Time of Year Called Summer

Two thousand miles away
from the mountain
above my childhood
our days are filled
by flood I wake and boil
water for coffee then walk
out back and start to bail 
rain that’s come overnight 
and filled the holes I dug
to catch the rain before
it fills our basement I get
the submersible pump 
going empty 
the rain barrel 
that fills beneath our gutter
I sweat and work shirtless 
and am thick and gritty
when I finally sit down
with my coffee on the floor
to keep the furniture clean
two weeks ago driving
thru south New Jersey corn
sprouting right there
we had to pull off
the highway the rain
too high coming down 
too abundant to see 
the next day
sleeping on the beach
on a perfect morning
of white sand and Xanax
I had to sprint 
into Acme to hide 
out from the rain it came
on like an air raid like
annoying Beethoven it 
was in your face
drown your pets kind
of rain I checked
the price of Diet Coke
I considered the hero
sandwiches I might 
bring another day 
to the beach 
I played the lottery
and stood dripping 
with my Diet Coke reading
the front page 
of the Times above
the fold was a photo
a landscape that looked just 
like my great-grandma’s 
dusty county or the place
we’d drive summers to play 
weeklong tourneys sage
sprouting right there 
on the warning track
“It’s Just Brutal” 
read the subhead
in my face
it was Oakley, Utah
if you could summit 
the mountain above
my childhood
home you could see it
from there it was
that close we had made
the front page we were
droughting that bad
in 1850 Parley P. Pratt
rode up the Weber River
from this point he returned 
to Brigham Young
and reported “abundant
grass and plenty of
water” where the Utes
would harvest roots
of the sego lily 
sprouting right there
to store and eat the bulbs
through winter
they taught this
to the Mormon settlers
who would later call
themselves “bulb eaters”
as a point of pride               
what saved them
wasn’t requited 
this was Oakley 
I was reading about
the phrase scientists 
used was “megadrought”
the rain was coming down
my face so abundant 
I had to suck it
from my mustache 
to keep from dripping
onto the paper
I wasn’t buying my hands
too damp to hold it
when the sky stopped
I walked back
to the Chalfonte 
the lush lawn swimming
below feet of clear
ripples rolling up 
to the historic boards 
of the hotel porch
it was starting 
to be surrounded 
by fire trucks

A photo of a stone sphinx with the head of a man, the Mormon prophet Joseph Smith, located in the Gilgal Garden in Salt Lake City, Utah. The photo is the featured image for Samuel Cheney's poems.

Sphinx with the Head of the Prophet Joseph Smith

I stand at his face and get dizzy.
Vertiginous eyes. The warmth inside my parka

leaking at the edges. The world 
clangs out over the wall, cranes and saws squealing

to box this garden in, to shrink it.
I stand at his face and blink, swaying in breeze

carrying salt off the lake, my movement moving 
his stone gaze. Spurs of frost-dust cling 

to butterfly bushes’ deadheaded stalks. Wing lights
wink over the mountains to the east. He had seen

all this—who never lived to see any of it.
These cracked lips that whispered open the sky

and brought Heaven down to the earth.
Here. The compass of stars 

engraved above his heart is true. It points away.
I put my freezing hand to the sandstone,

to the cell bars of his ribs.
A swaddled family strolls up, mutters cheese 

and has their picture taken with the martyred sphinx. 
I set my fingers into the rift 

in his cheek, the hole in his forehead.
I awaited the seer, while they slumbered and slept

carved into quartzite at my feet. I shiver 
in the daylit cold till my digits slow. Nothing moves

but the dirt being shot into the air 
from the conveyor, humming along

over the white-feathered plywood wall.
Somewhere up in the highest floors 

of the new parking structure, a worker’s hammer
meets and meets a stake. Joseph’s

face brightens. Two sister missionaries
wait politely behind me.

“Sphinx with the Head of the Prophet Joseph Smith” was originally published in Peripheries, the literary journal of Harvard Divinity School’s Center for the Study of World Religions, and is reprinted here with permission of the author.

Samuel Cheney is from Centerville, Utah. His poems appear in The American Journal of Poetry, Copper Nickel, The Literary Review, The Missouri Review, Peripheries, Salmagundi, and elsewhere. He has been awarded a 2021 Pushcart Prize, the 2018 Erskine J. Poetry Prize, and scholarships from Bread Loaf, the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and the State of Utah.

More great reading
from Pipe Wrench no. 8

Searching for Zarahemla
Journalist Emily Kaplan recounts an epic Mormon road trip across Mesoamerica. How many ways are there to tell a story? And how do we know what’s true?

The Traditions of the Fathers
Anthropologist Catie Nuckols-Wilde’s casts a critical eye at Mormon archeological scholarship and its impact on how the West sees Mesoamerica.

Guilt Trip
Columnist Soraya Roberts rethinks travel, for the common good. Worried about climate change? Back away from the check-in desk.