Mormon poetry has always been invested in history. The earliest Mormon poems, for example, argued for Mormonism’s place in the grand narrative of Israel. Later poems, fashioned in less apocalyptic times, sought meaning in Mormonism’s nineteenth-century struggle against the land, the world, and its own idealistic ambitions.
The poems in James Goldberg’s Let Me Drown with Moses take both approaches to Mormonism and history. Organized into seven sections, each with its own thematic concerns, the collection is a kind of composite of Mormon historical and mythic remembrance. Frontloaded with biblical imagery, it reaches back to the New Testament with its first poem, “The Kingdom of God,” which echoes the parable of the great banquet:
The Kingdom of God
Is not the feast. It’s the cry that goes out
and echoes through the streets that you
and I and all the beggars have been summoned
tonight to the sovereign’s table.
Like The Five Books of Jesus, Goldberg’s fictional retelling of the Gospels, this introductory poem asks readers to set aside what they know about the Kingdom of God and indulge in an exercise in devotional imagination. We are to set aside what we think we know for a chance to see the familiar with fresh eyes.
The second poem follows this track, reaching further back in time, imagining a pivotal moment from the Exodus story, when Moses is midway through the Red Sea, but his deliverance from Egypt still remains uncertain:
If these walls of water fall, O Lord,
let me drown with Moses.
Yes, let me die with the same fire in my eyes
Moses saw in a desert bush.
Titled “Prayer on the Red Sea Shore,” the poem gives the collections its title and serves as a kind of statement of purpose and allegiance. Like those who followed Moses between the “walls of water,” the collection casts its voice on the side of Moses. It is an act of literary faith that responds to the “melancholy, long, withdrawing roar” Matthew Arnold describes in his classic “Dover Beach.”