Put the stone in the upturned hat. Lean your face into the darkness. Tell me if the body of Christ can save you, and where the treasure is, and when the locusts. Tell me if my mother can see her children from the ether. Two of us are stoned, one of us is drunk, one yells something across the house to the girlchild who, in being had, saved her.
The first time Joseph Smith encountered a seer stone seems to have been in the possession of one Sally Chase. In 1873, Lorenzo Saunders remembered: Willard Chase claimed his sister Sally had a peep stone. The Lord bless you I have seen her peep stone a hundred times; It was a little bit of a stone & it was green & she would hold it before light.
The first trial was sleeplessness, tongue heavy in her head heard the dog call out her name.
The second trial was homeliness, a great power though it takes a while to learn so.
The third trial was ignorance of the ancestors, specifically that she knew them back only to the greats, the women who gathered around her bed with faces inconclusive as sand swept across a wood floor.
There is nothing simple about having your soul reduced to a hole between your legs as the men clear the ancient forest and come home fevered. Easy, in that absence, to become a burnt-over girl. Pollen massing in the trees.
In the month after my mother died, I pushed the plunger on the droppers of alprazolam nightly into my mouth as I had pushed them into her mouth, and so was sustained.
For my ancestor Levi, his prophet who is not my prophet meted out this patriarchal blessing in 1835: You are a strange kind of man. Curious spirits trouble you, but in the name of the Lord Jesus we rebuke all the evil spirits and say to you that you shall overcome them. You shall have a peculiar gift to speak in other tongues.
How long have I been asleep
What has transpired
I drive by the cemetery, shout glad news to the dead. The vases in the gravestones flood with rainwater. My mother’s buried here a few yards from her sister.
To be secular is ostensibly to be ritual starved, and yet how many times have I seen a woman manifest a ceremony for the occasion? Bonfire of burned skirts, prayers scratched into walls, happenstanced altars on mantles and nightstands, hidden in cupboards.
Put the stone in the upturned hat. Lean your face into the darkness.
Having put off grief for the sake of corporeality, I attend my mother’s grave.
Of another ancestor: When he was on his mission in 1836 he administered to a man possessed of devils. It took many men to hold the man down. When he opened the door into his room, the room seemed filled with evil spirits. He laid his hands on him and commanded the evil spirits to depart; but there seemed to be too much opposition in the room, so he sent out part of the men, and administered again. The devil departed and the man was left limp.
There is reason to think that women in early Mormon history anointed, healed, cast out, but this is not recorded in the family records, nor are matriarchal blessings, nor are the women’s conversion narratives.
Here is my new dendritic agate, shape of an egg, white with black markings.
Have you ever kissed a dead woman on the forehead?
To be without a stone in my pocket would frighten me. When I lived away from the sagebrush desert my family came to in 1861, calling holy what had been holy for millennia before their intrusion, I carried a smooth gray river stone. I would touch it and smell water, taste my lover’s body, see lightning strike the foothills and feel the conflagration, sweating in my sleep.
The Lord bless you before light. I spend a fair measure of time these days talking to the dead. Sometimes all I have to do is roll my eyes.
Two women, in separate instances, each blessed and healed a child in her care. Neither of these women had ever discussed the blessing with anyone before for fear it would be considered “inappropriate.” Another woman gathered her sister’s frail, cancer-ridden body in her arms and blessed her with one pain-free day. Several women blessed a close friend just prior to her hysterectomy. One daughter told of a blessing administered to her by her mother for the relief of intense menstrual cramps. Others asked that their experience not be mentioned—again fearing that what had been personal and sacred to them would be misunderstood and viewed as inappropriate by others.
Early on, the prophet said there was a seeing stone for every person on earth waiting to be found, a sort of true love you’d know when you beheld it.
In May my mother decided not to get out of bed again, lungs two oil slicks. What seemed like a sudden decision was, looking back, her waiting for the academic year to end so that I could be there to administer the doses, arrange the pillows, watch her mind go. This took four months, time out of time, outside of language, and when it was done every cell in my body was transfigured. I will never again be that exhausted. I will never again be that God-struck.
Put the stone in the upturned hat. Lean your face into the darkness. Tell me if the body of Christ can save you, and what megafauna walked the desert, then ask my mother how long to bake this chicken. There are things I need to know. I am scanning the banks for stones.
The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.