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BOOK REVIEW: DOVE SONG: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry (and a bee story)

By Melonie Cannon


Under the full moon, I opened the package of bees. For me, it was a holy act. There is a little plastic sleeve that pulls back and underneath is the queen bee in a tiny wooden casket with a metal grid on one side. She sits in isolation, while thousands of bees rest in a plastic mesh box beneath her, poking out their tongues, humming out their ache, and straining their tiny legs to escape. I pulled out the queen bee and put her in the waiting empty hive. “Once you’ve placed the queen, just open the bottom of the hive and the top of the plastic box. Rest the hive on top. Let it sit through the night. By the morning, the bees will have captured her scent and will rise up out of the box and into the hive,” were my instructions. The bees will eat through the fondant cork that holds the queen bee inside her little box. They will free her and when they do (to the adulation and adoration of thousands of bees) she will begin her work.

I woke up at 5:30 am the next day and couldn’t sleep anymore. I had to know about the bees. I put on my bee suit and went out just as the sky was beginning to become light, but it was still cold. Many of the bees had found their way into the hive and to the queen, but there were still hundreds in the box. Some were out, but sitting on the stump or outside of the hive, trying to find their way in. All throughout the day, I watched them. They seemed dazed and confused. The heady aroma of spring lilacs and burgeoning apple tree blossoms nearby was calling. They flew in circles around the hive, smelling the queen and searching for the entrance, but not finding their way in. Hours passed. I went to check on them again once the moon had risen and the night air spread its blanket over my backyard. Everything was silent at the hive. I panicked. I shined my flashlight through the little window at the bottom of the hive and it was empty! No bees! Where could they have gone? Carefully, I opened the top to peek into the top tier of the hive. It was thrumming and full. They had all found their mother, tight and clumped around her smell.

If I could somehow capture the flight patterns, the leg scratches, and the dances the bees make, I believe they would recreate the poetry and art in Dove Song: Heavenly Mother in Mormon Poetry, edited by Tyler Chadwick, Dayna Patterson, and Martin Pulido. Dove Song is an anthology of eighty poets and 138 poems centered on the Divine Feminine and our Holy Mother. The poetry is chronological from 1844 to the present day. The introductions are just as important to understanding the book as the poetry inside. In addition, the ending references and biographies are a fascinating bookend and not to be missed. The anthology provides a lens for us to look through decades of Mormon thought about Heavenly Mother. Even when the lens focuses on the unrepresented years from 1920s-1960s, this is a statement in itself of what was going on in the culture of the Church. Just like the bees clustering on top of one another, the poetry in the collection builds on each other historically as well as thematically. At the beginning of the collection, Heavenly Mother is mentioned in single lines or words, such as “The Queen of Heaven,” or “Mother,” or in a title. The thoughts behind them are solid, worshipful, and unquestioningly faithful in their perceptions of Her. As time progresses in the anthology, Heavenly Mother is absent, then she is called for, then she is searched for, wondered about, and then She makes Her escape into the poetry until She fills every line in the modern poems through gorgeous imagery.

The poetry in the 1970s is almost painful to read in its crying out. The poets ache for Her, as demonstrated in Carolyn Pearson’s “motherless house” to Margaret Ramptun Monk’s phrase “she hid her face from me.” Lisa Bolin Hawkins laments that there is no pattern of becoming a goddess in Another Prayer. Another poem by her entitled Let my Sisters Do It For Me expresses eloquently the desire for women to gather. “If we must preserve our differences/Then let my sisters do for me…” She asks to let her “cradle me and give me my name, teach me of the world, let her ordain me to womanhood, heal my sickness, hold my baby, dig my grave, let her robe me, let her bless my empty bones. Let me greet my mother on the far shore.”

There is a definite shift in tone after the year 2000. The poets embrace their exploration of Heavenly Mother. A pattern to become a Goddess isn’t worried over anymore. Joanna Brooks digs deep with the words “where there is no pattern, God, give me courage to organize a fearsome beauty./Where there is unraveling, let me draw broad blanket stitches of sturdy blue yarn.” The lamenting for Heavenly Mother is over and She is discovered in all sorts of metaphor and in full compliment to our Heavenly Father. Danny Nelson’s Creation is an example of the theme of both Father and Mother together. The poem is a song of balanced love. “Then the sun and the moon/set the world in a swoon/and clothed it in meadow and wood./And with bashful glance/began to dance/…and called it good.” He asks for both the Father and the Mother to give him vision.

There are so many poems I could mention, but I took notice of Maxine Hanks’ Here the Whole Time, Robert Rees’ Mother, Melody Newey Johson’s The River You Always Knew, Connor McKinnon’s To Her, Calvin Olsen’s Veil, Teressa Wellborn’s Mute Bird, Jim Paworth’s Song of Creation (“Come in the form of a moon and spread her light over me” Lovely. Gets to me kind of poetry), and The Woman Whose Husband Brings Heart Shape Stones.

For me, poetry is not something to dismantle, but to taste like the honey of my bees. Most of the poetry in this anthology is to be savored. It is deep and wide-ranging. There is enough here for the scholar to find new perspectives, the newcomer to propel further studies, the mother-in-law to cluck at, and the lover to be overcome by. Book groups will welcome the discussions this anthology will hatch. Husbands and fathers will be glad for the grateful sighs as women open Mother’s Day or birthday presents containing this book. Women and men everywhere, no matter their religious beliefs, will be reminded of their own experience and see a mirror to hold up to themselves in the poetry that graces these pages. May I also add, the artwork will also provide a sacred space to contemplate for a few moments before you turn the page and dive into the next section.

Just like my lost and confused honeybees who finally found their Queen by following her scent, the words and art in Dove Song will lead you to find our Queen, our Mother. Like them, come out of the box, search, eat through the fondant cork and feast on this poetry, and let Her come out to do Her work. She was never very far away.

Congratulations to all the contributors and editors. You can find Dove Song here:

Also, because I think it sums up the anthology so well, I am also adding David Allred’s poem Invocation as a teaser of what is in Dove Song.

Invocation

May the weary, sighing for God’s embrace, feel themselves cradled in her arms.

May those who desire to know their Mother and are not satisfied with less know joy.

May those who give themselves away to know her dwell in Wisdom’s home.

May those who desire her coming, but cannot believe, be comforted. God speaks through the honest.

May those who long for her presence, but have family and friends who are troubled, feel her love.

May those who are troubled because of sisters or brothers who talk with our Mother, but give them place, feel God’s love.

May those who cannot find her in religion hear her voice in
contemplation, feel her caress in the wind, and see her likeness
in others.

May those who love truth and seek for justice, freedom, and light
find that they are Wisdom’s disciples.

May those who pray for new eyes and ears discern her presence and
know that it could be her breath blowing love into their hearts
and vision into their minds.

May those who seek her in sacred books find her.

May those who seek see in Jesus’ gracious words and works the acts
of the Daughter also.

May those who call out to Father in need be granted wisdom to discern when the Mother’s voice answers.

May those who can accept God as woman see God’s image in their own reflection.

May those who do her work be called her children and those who walk her paths meet her on the way.

May those whose words of desire—bursting from their lips—call for the veil to be lifted, see her revelation.

[2012]

About Melonie Cannon

Melonie has surrounded herself with beautiful words for as long as she can remember. This led her to find a home with Segullah after writing an essay published in the May 2006 Segullah issue. She was invited to join the staff and has been a part of Segullah in various capacities since, including being the creator of the “Words Fall In” podcast.  She received her M.Ed from the University of Utah and was a certified Secondary English teacher before becoming a Mom of four. Over the years, her focus has been on natural healing modalities and becoming a sacred sound healing practitioner with a focus on the drum, rhythm, voice, and vibration. She is finishing her PH.D. in theology and metaphysics to further these studies and help women to connect to the divine within themselves.

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