Monday, January 31, 2011

Snow Light

Snow Light
by Gideon Burton

I think this time the snow was made of light
itself. Perhaps, if I may speculate,
when sunrays linger in the starry height
between the moon and time grown late,
they shudder in the cold of blackened time,
then shakes themselves to crystaled shards of ice,
to frost more delicate than autumn rime,
to flaking whispers, grains of hollow rice.
For as the quiet snow began to fall
today, it seemed to have no weight, no mass,
no juicy core to squeeze into a ball.
No sooner held, it disappeared as fast.
     This snow was never water if I'm right;
     it came from star fields dense with shadowed light.

Photo: flickr - IceNineJon

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Seeking the Good

Seeking the Good
by Gideon Burton

All lovely things and virtuous, the white
inside of light, the sting of sweat, designs
that angle gravity, the binding bite
of interlocking fingers, laughter lines--
All things of good report: a budget kept,
a double-windsor tied on first attempt,
a flaky crust, a long jump deftly leapt,
a child from heaven's mercy not exempt--
I see the more I seek the more I see
that everywhere and everything and more
is more: the world in messages for me,
a refuge, message, comfort, pleasure, store.
     I look to see fresh subjects for bright praise,
     and warming oceans wash me in their waves.
Photo: flickr - Phil Strahl

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Perfect Language

A Perfect Language
by Gideon Burton

So tense with time, conjoined to circumstance,
whatever nouns you name or verbs you voice.
We feel in chaos, think by music, dance,
in subtle hues, in sudden shades of choice.
Then come these crude stiff knobs, these waypoint cues
made up of rough-hewn syllables, designed
to traffic code, but we all know the ruse.
We know, and yet to words we are resigned.
And yet, though thin and spent, though prone to fraud,
to fashion and to fashioning-- they work.
They play, they pay fresh dividends though odd,
and often something holy in them lurks.
     The perfect language is the one you use
     in faith that somehow, something will ring true.

Photo: flickr - Joris Machielse

Friday, January 28, 2011

Will I Remember?

Will I Remember?
by Gideon Burton

Will I remember? Gushing waters burst
in splintered roaring force, the firmament
reverberating, echoing, disbursed
in seismic shuddering, in permanent
expansion, rushing winds that heat and spin
the layered atmospheres, the heavy weight
of silent certainty. Can I begin
to name the hour, wield the flux and freight,
the liquid ministrations poured in thick
remissions? Tides of burning waters wash
away the blackened sands, a whitened wick
threads evenly, a filament, a floss
too fine to see, new salt in newer seas.
Will I remember, hushed, on bended knees?

Photo: flickr - stuant63

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thy Mind, Oh Man

The fifth of five sonnets based on the life of Joseph Smith. See the headnote to the first sonnet for details.

Thy Mind, Oh Man

by Gideon Burton
after a passage from Joseph Smith

Thy mind, oh man, must stretch to every height,
toward the thrones of gods that are these stars,
beyond the mountain splendor in our sight,
to touch that destiny He promised ours.
Thy mind, oh man, must widen to that depth,
that press of salt and blood that Jesus knew
within the core where heat and cold are kept,
beside the beast that dying Jesus slew.
My mind, oh God! salvation to behold,
eternities to span and lives to bear,
in vivid vision, truth to truth enfold
upon these vast expanses mutely stares!
     So Joseph, searing prophet, suffering light.
     So we, in burning vision, darkness white!

Photo: flickr - Rosemary McKevitt

Thy mind, O man! if thou wilt lead a soul unto salvation, must stretch as high as the utmost heavens, and search into and contemplate the darkest abyss, and the broad expanse of eternity—thou must commune with God. —Joseph Smith

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Faith of Joseph

The fourth of five sonnets based on the life of Joseph Smith. See the headnote to the first sonnet for details.

The Faith of Joseph
by Gideon Burton

How dread those powers gathering the night
around the groaning globe! as though to slow
the rolling waters (quiet in their might)
of truth restored. How Joseph knew the blows
of hateful Satan hissing at his light,
betraying him, assaulting him! Below
indignity, defamed with spit, with spite,
he kept his sight despite the starkest woes.
He kept his vision while he kept his cell,
his liberty within the prison bars.
The Savior, suffering long, had taught him well
the blacker night is, brighter shine the stars.
     "My God!" he cried at Carthage from that hell;
     the faith of Joseph, rising as he fell.

Photo: flickr - More Good Foundation

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Smith of Souls

The third of five sonnets based on the life of Joseph Smith. See the headnote to the first sonnet for details.

The Smith of Souls
by Gideon Burton

If nothing more, Elijah in our hearts!
He turned to God and God to him returned
the promises, the fate for which we yearn:
our generations never need to part,
our fathers' fathers, sons beyond our sons;
our daughters' daughters, mothers to the end;
divided families unbreaking bend,
all life returning where it had begun.
A prophet, sealer, binding us in time
for us to profit, welding hoping hearts
to an eternity of joy, to start
on earth our backward-forward forming line.
     The smith of souls, our Joseph, freely taught
     that families link by link are kneeling wrought.

Photo: flickr - 4nitsirk

Monday, January 24, 2011


The second of five sonnets based on the life of Joseph Smith. See the headnote to the first sonnet for details.


by Gideon Burton

The gold was grayed and cold; the plates were thin.
What mystery lay captive in their runes?
His fingers, asking, traced them to begin.
Would history unlock its darkness soon?
Embalmed within the metal, robed in glyphs,
the absent millions whisper from the past;
He scans the ancient scrawlings thick with mist
until their shadows dawn in him at last:
Each thought, unwieldy first, he hefts with sweat,
as though ideas were metal: heavy, dense;
He assays words in dozens, weighed then set,
as heaven trains His prophet, seer, and lens.
To craft the words, to tell each symbol's pith,
the seer-apprentice fashioned, Joseph, smith.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

First Vision

A few years ago, at the bicentennial celebration of the birth of Joseph Smith, I was commissioned to write the libretto for a series of five tenor solos composed by David Sargent. This was performed in late 2005 with Lawrence Vincent, tenor soloist and Scott Holden, pianist. I enjoyed working with the composer, who was more than happy to deal with a five-beat line. So, over the next five days, I'm going to post the five sonnets that I did for that occasion. If I can dig up the recorded music, I'll post it here, too.

First Vision
by Gideon Burton
from "In Burning Vision: Sonnets on Joseph Smith" (2005)

It had been raining, softly, through the leaves,
as though to clean the elms, the forest floor,
to douse again the April earth that heaves
its greens to bluest heaven--pleasant chore.
Unlike the sweat and dust of farming days,
the breaking of the sharp, unyielding soil,
to plant again, to hope for warming rays
that sleeping seeds may feel them and uncoil
to burst from shriveled darkness into light,
as though to answer heaven's calling sun
who visits us with columns of his might,
who gives us knowledge pure where there was none.
     It fell to Joseph Smith as light, as rain:
     First, vision, tiny root of godly gain.

Photo: flickr - Aquistbe

Saturday, January 22, 2011


by Gideon Burton

Like sun rays angled in the water, bent
within the denser medium, aslant
in uniform refraction, sideways sent--
so stirs the breath that hovering heaven grants.
I read the rays outflowing, flooding mass
of lighted warmth as clear as they are grand,
but stumble to retrieve them when I ask
to feel them gathered in my outstretched hand.
Yet to my left and right (as ripples flow
in spiral webbing, pulsing through a pond)
the liquid light connects me in its slow
and even echoing of things beyond.
    I still my voice, make small the din around;
    I listen, touching silence, where He's found.

Photo: flickr - Marty.FM

Friday, January 21, 2011

Illumine Me

Illumine Me
by Gideon Burton
after opening lines from Milton's Paradise Lost

Within this soundless depthless darkest waste
beneath an icy ocean's ashen tide,
a turning, mute, and just enough to taste
the casting moonlit motions shifting wide;
a cry, redrafting in the half light, please,
a dare to open skyward one desire,
the foam up rushing, downward by degrees,
reflecting amber in wet-embered fire--
illumine what within me lingers dark
or anchors low raise up, support and steady.
I've watched in waiting, stoked this hunger stark,
I've faced the broad abyss, and I am ready.
     Oh, God, creator, stir again thy might
     and raise my verse, my eyes, above this night.

Photo: flickr - bbluesman

Thursday, January 20, 2011

A Drowning

Some friends of ours lost two adult children to drowning not so long ago. I still can't wrap my head around it all. It is haunting.

A Drowning
by Gideon Burton

you wake you gulp slap surface sink you kick
just why the dark the salt the cold the cramps
you bend below cough up the sand the prick
of sickness seizes cloudy pressures clamp
and shake you kick and sink and slap you tire
how long remains how long so far no fight
no shore no more you cramp convulse the mire
of melting mud and muck ascends to bite
your numbing limbs slow treading sink and churn
the froth and seaweed strands that slide and wrap
what's left you choke you heave the throaty burn
and just how you got here what ship what map
you are that distant dimming swimmer tossed
to fetal fatal falling chilling loss

Photo: flickr - andy castro

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


by Gideon Burton

For eons an existence without end
until an end, a goal, a destination,
and to that spinning wanderer descend
toward fantastic futures, higher stations
the other side of birth and work and sense
and senselessness by groaning grace and strife.
Condition: we would not have the defense
and comfort of that rich, receding life.
For modesty, a veil, a way to hide
all beautiful security -- our past,
our billion friends. The smoky cosmos glides
before our planet, bound by forces vast.
     Eclipsed, cut off, oblivioned in flesh,
     we face the veiling sky, we pray, we press.

Photo: flickr - .Andi.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011


by Gideon Burton

This bore, this augur, drilling down to tap
a primal vinegar, a bile, a dread.
Infinities stretch out across the map
confused with aching, black inside of red.
It starts with a fixation: this I want
and only this and these my only terms.
The thing then proves to be an endless font
of disappointment burrowing, a worm.
How keen the mind: secure and insecure,
to never waver, spiraled rhythms down
to what is dark and hard and yet so sure
to haunt, to trap, distract you till you drown.
     If we can name the thing for which we wait,
     it proves and idle idol, switch, and bait.

Photo: flickr - tobym

Monday, January 17, 2011

What a Piece of Work

What a Piece of Work
by Gideon Burton
after a passage from Shakespeare's Hamlet

How is it no one, nothing pleases me?
I am not blind to how our sweaty dust
retains bright shimmers of divinity,
despite the vinegar, the bile and rust.
We are these demigods of sense and flesh,
as fair in form and movement as the stars,
the waves, the wind; our stirring thoughts enmeshed
in reason, action, music, spreading far
into infinities beyond, within,
as golden glorious as fretted skies
afire; as magical as newborn's skin.
And yet I stop. I sink in heavy sighs.
     Though heaven dazzles earth with brightest beams,
     so heavy, bland, and sterile it all seems.

Photo: flickr - susy

From Hamlet:

I have of late--but wherefore I know not--lost all my mirth, forgone all custom of exercises; and indeed it goes so heavily with my disposition that this goodly frame, the earth, seems to me a sterile promontory, this most excellent canopy, the air, look you, this brave o'erhanging firmament, this majestical roof fretted with golden fire, why, it appears no other thing to me than a foul and pestilent congregation of vapours. What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! the paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? man delights not me: no, nor woman neither...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

At Rest

At Rest
by Gideon Burton

If there were other options, had the sound
not echoed from the lower canyons, had
the strains of Barber's violins not found
crescendos stronger than the snowfall, sad
against the season, over warm so soon.
If there were chances to betray the light
the children weave across their crooked loom
of chance enthusiasms, loosely bright.
But we are snared, entangled, bound to this,
to sudden graces, mercies tendered thick
as afternoons unpressured by a kiss
upon the forehead. Nothing left to kick:
     the pricking shards and nettles -- all at rest
     because you tire and sleep against my chest.

Photo: flickr - rrrodrigo

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Go Broke With Me

Go Broke With Me
by Gideon Burton

The simple economics of my love
for her: supply supplied with time with her.
And as we spend, we find no price above,
below: production and consumption blurred,
our capital compounds as interest soars.
Though years add debts not payable in cash,
our warehouse of affection stocks fresh stores.
No need to fear our markets ever crash,
for we are fully vested, partners full,
and though our funds are taxed, at times distressed,
we balance steady, come both bears and bulls,
and count our assets in the ways we're blessed.
     Go broke with me, and you will find me thankful,
     far more than had I bullion by the bankful.

Photo: Luann Hawker,

Friday, January 14, 2011


by Gideon Burton

You vegetarians -- just walk on by.
You do not want to see this slab of meat,
dark charred in carnal lusciousness -- not dry,
but robed in tangy-smoky sauces sweet.
Utensils -- I don't need your girly aid;
I rip, I gnaw, I tear the carcass tangy,
You want to interrupt me? Be afraid.
No time for napkin nonsense, manners dainty.
I toss the whitened bones into their place,
sucked clean of any morsels I could chew.
A reddened ring expands across my face,
the beast has left his mark in barbecue.
     Self-tortured on the rack of fleshy bliss,
     Oh, trousered ape, have you evolved to this?

Photo: flickr - jk5854

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Ice Dams

I was shoveling the slush and ice from my roof at about 11:00pm tonight, trying to fend off the leaks already starting in my bedroom from another year of ice dams.
Ice Dams
by Gideon Burton

The snow has had some time to settle in:
transforming from its dry and wispy flakes,
it moistens as a warmer day begins,
lies heavy on my roof until it aches.
The heat that rises underneath the shingles
turns snow to slush that creeps toward the edge.
But suddenly, with night, the cold air mingles,
refreezing slush into an icy ledge.
And soon the water pools above the eaves
and works its way to layers better dry.
The snowfall stops, the wetness never leaves,
and rots my roof until I want to cry.
     Two winters ice dams have brought down my ceiling.
     Come Spring, up on that roof you'll find me kneeling.

Photo: flickr - BoSoxBrent

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Luscious Peaches

Luscious Peaches
by Gideon Burton

Don't picture them, forget the way they smell.
It's not the fruit that's sweet; it is the sound
of luscious peaches. Say it! Can you tell
the way the S's slosh in slushy mounds
of fructose-addled consonants? It seems
a sin, almost,  to speak those luscious peaches,
moist-ripened in each repetition, clean
and fresh, four syllables and sonic leeches
suck in or out the nectar nouns, a rush
of breath, saliva summoned, ready fruit
unlike their orchard counterparts that hush
to silent wrinkled pits once down the chute.
     No need for Autumn's chill or season's prime;
     I say my peaches, lusciously they're mine.

Photo: flickr - floradog

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


by Gideon Burton

And after so much time, so many days
adrift in waiting -- do I watch the sun
horizoned, rippling in the water's rays?
or angle moonwise where the night's begun
its dread ascent? And after walking west
against that wall of gristled wind, head down
and stutter-paced, the glow of morning's breast
a fable, running short of verbs and nouns
to document the spiraling, the choke
and phlegm, the snapping ailerons, those long
and twisted cloths to mop the sticky smoke
of wasting resolutions -- then a song
     awakens something hidden, buys me back,
     forgives the time, the waste, the weight, the lack.

Photo: flickr - Espen Faugstad

Monday, January 10, 2011

My Grandmother's Crossing

This sonnet is a remix of Gideon Burton's "We Will Cross the River" and the "Autobiography of Carolina Eliza Nickerson Hubbard Grover" (see note below).

My Grandmother's Crossing
by Kathy Cowley

I’ll be strong enough to cross the river,
the February river, dark with ice;
to take hard gifts provided by the Giver,
the gifts of hunger, want, and sacrifice.
Now was the time of trial: as we crossed
the oxen tromped the helm, the ice did part.
While freezing in the water all seemed lost;
my daughter pled, “Lord save my little heart.”
We all were saved, through mercies of our God
Yet trials, death and hardship did not cease
I know this work is true, His name I laud,
And pray each day my faith will not decrease.
     Years later, I fear sacrifice, fear loss
     Yet grandma knew His hand and voice, and cross.

Caroline Elisa Nickerson is one of my direct ancestors, a grandmother (seven generations back) who decided to follow Joseph Smith through her baptism in 1833. In her personal history, both Caroline's testimony and her suffering are clear. She writes, "Now this was a time to know whether Mormonism was true, each for ourselves, for many were the hardships and much suffering was the common lot of the Saints." --Kathy Cowley

Sunday, January 9, 2011

We Will Cross the River

Today I was very moved by a sermon delivered at the Pleasant View 7th Ward in Provo, Utah, where I was visiting. Emily Eliason told a beautiful story about the pioneer Mormons and the courage required by them to leave Nauvoo and cross the Mississippi river in the winter. Some did not, and there were long term consequences for those that did not pay the dear price of crossing the river and the plains with the faithful. Thanks, Emily, for inspiring us. This is my tribute to your story.

We Will Cross the River
by Gideon Burton

Let us be strong enough to cross the river,
the February river, dark with ice;
to take hard gifts provided by the Giver,
the gifts of hunger, want, and sacrifice.
Let us be strong enough to walk the plains,
to leave behind what we with toil have sown;
to brave a wilderness of mud and rain
and find what can't be found in peace at home.
Let us be strong enough to bear their pain
when children weaken in the dark and cold,
when some depart while we repeat their names,
the same we prayed since birth and will till old.
     We step into the chill of certain loss,
     For we have known His hand and voice, and cross.

Photo: flickr - mpilote

Saturday, January 8, 2011


by Gideon Burton

The silence of the drying ink, so still,
so mute. It is the opposite of song:
no strings that vibrate, no high notes to spill
along a melody that’s never wrong.
I have in corridors and concert halls
allowed the music’s ballast to lay weight
upon an errant soul. My life, my all,
I would for asking trade it straight
to feel, however shortened, one more chord
of symphony, of chorus clean and strong,
nor can I stay unwell when steeped in song.
     I praise it and in praising I will sing:
     the voice, the patterned music ever rings.

Photo: flickr - CRFish

Friday, January 7, 2011

Shakespeares of Our Own

Shakespeares of Our Own
by Gideon Burton

Oh brave new world! No longer dim and cold,
but warmed with knowledge strong and priesthood sure
that Jesus Christ restored to Joseph, bold
enough to pray all his desires pure.
Can we, the true yet stripling church, request
our liberal answering God to show us well
how we through consecration may be blessed
to dramas act, paint pictures, stories tell?
If Shakespeares are to be or not to be
among ourselves, the saints of latter days,
we must as Joseph, let our question be
what virtues lay in Shakespeare's words and ways.
     Before the Prophet’s prayer was ever said,
     he long had savored well the words he read.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Manta Ray Love

Manta Ray Love
by Gideon Burton
after Shakespeare's Sonnet #18

Shall I compare thee to a manta ray?

You are less slimy, more affectionate.
The manta sucks salt water all the day
to siphon plankton from the waters temperate;
while you upon a straw make dainty sips.
The manta stretches twenty feet across;
your girly girth is slender in the hips.
He has a stinger; you? I'm at a loss.
But if by some dark trick of radiation
you are transmogrified into a fish,
I'd still feel flush with maritime elation:
to swim with you would be my fondest wish.
     So long as sharks can swim or algae breed
     So long I'd paddle after you with glee.

Photo: flickr - massdistraction

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


by Gideon Burton

A liquid in the liquid, flow on flow
on gossamer, the dark and cooling milk
the ponds and syllables of winding silk
the current's currency and what it knows
of dissolution, hot and fainting snow
of disaffections, loose and layered silt,
a ribboned helix, smoke and softened guilt,
some distillation of the planet's glow
along meridians and waning primes,
the transpositions sifted in our slowed
orations, menial and thickly wet--
The liquid's liquid, moistening the time
in lapping paradoxes crudely mowed
in patterns too resilient to forget.

Photo: flickr - M. Christian

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


by Gideon Burton
after passages from Shakespeare's Hamlet

Give me that man that is not passion's slave,
whose words untie the knots that fortune binds
behind our backs and deep inside the waves
of pushing blood; that man who when he finds
divinity will shape our every end --
rough hew them how we will -- will carve again,
reject and mock all blunt denials, bend
and shave and bludgeon, hack and dent
defiant of all auguries, content
to strive and fail but know no errant star
could force his hand. The gods are tender friends
to strivers, though they tax them deep and far.
     The earth itself with iron wills complies,
     and such a man, though mortal, never dies.

Photo: flickr - ChiBart

Monday, January 3, 2011

The Shining One

The Shining One
by Gideon Burton
after D&C 88:6-13

The Shining One, because he has ascended,
ascended from the depths where he descended;
he spans the frame where timelesses is ended
and having all transcended, comprehended.
This is the light of Christ, the son of suns
and master of the monthly moons that run
against the ermine fields of stars begun
in aching eons past when Jesus spun
the elements, the cosmos kindled bright
brought forth from brooding bosom depths divine
to shine again, again against our night
and spangle gracious knowledge, godly wine
cascading liquid light from God's abyss,
eternities with words as brief as this.

Photo: flickr - Lynn (Gracie's Mom)

D&C 88:6-13
He that ascended up on high, as also he descended below all things, in that he comprehended all things, that he might be in all and through all things, the light of truth; which truth shineth. This is the light of Christ. As also he is in the sun, and the light of the sun, and the power thereof by which it was made. As also he is in the moon, and is the light of the moon, and the power thereof by which it was made; As also the light of the stars, and the power thereof by which they were made; And the earth also, and the power thereof, even the earth upon which you stand. And the light which shineth, which giveth you light, is through him who enlighteneth your eyes, which is the same light that quickeneth your understandings; Which light proceedeth forth from the presence of God to fill the immensity of space— The light which is in all things, which giveth life to all things, which is the law by which all things are governed, even the power of God who sitteth upon his throne, who is in the bosom of eternity, who is in the midst of all things.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Snow More

Snow More
by Gideon Burton

Continuing its mute descent, the cloth
Of shredded winter nestles snugly warm
Amid the creases, washed in silent froth
Against the chaos, cool and stingless swarms.
A paint of latent wetness, patient, still
Accumulating feathers, humid-dry,
A blank and perfect order as they spill
Into the cooling furnaces of why.
This afternoon I kick my booted feet
Along what might have been a sidewalk or
An oily road. Such purity, they meet
Unmuddied, curious, entranced by more
Of fluff, of powder, milky wading ways.
The snow will go, yet something solid stays.

Photo: flickr - Christopher S. Penn

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Begin Again

Begin Again
by Gideon Burton

Dismember anything that might remain --
arpeggios strung out along the bank
of churning chords, the octaves spanning blank
precisions -- anything that might have named
the slanted hue of evening on the stones,
or numbered currents intersecting light
and water, milky with their clotted peace.
There is a danger more than time can crease,
inherently a risk, however slight.
I feel it, marrow glowing in the bones.
Disband the braiding scents of hot house flowers,
inhale the sharpened shards of winter air.
There's only time enough today to spare
yourself, to pardon all beyond your power.

Photo: flickr - John Oram