Disappointments of the Apocalypse

Once warring factions agreed upon the date   
and final form the apocalypse would take,   
and whether dogs and cats and certain trees
deserved to sail, and if the dead would come or be left   
a forwarding address, then opposing soldiers   
met on ravaged plains to shake hands   
and postulate the exact shade
of the astral self—some said lavender,   
others gray. And physicists rocketed
copies of the decree to paradise
in case God had anything to say,
the silence that followed being taken   
for consent, and so citizens
readied for celestial ascent.

Those who hated the idea stayed indoors   
till the appointed day. When the moon   
clicked over the sun like a black lens   
over a white eye, they stepped out   
onto porches and balconies to see   
the human shapes twist and rise   
through violet sky and hear trees uproot   
with a sound like enormous zippers   
unfastening. And when the last grassblades   
filled the air, the lonely vigilants fell   
in empty fields to press their bodies   
hard into dirt, hugging their own outlines.

Then the creator peered down from his perch,   
as the wind of departing souls tore the hair   
of those remaining into wild coronas,   
and he mourned for them as a father   
for defiant children, and he knew that each   
small skull held, if not some vision
of his garden, then its aroma of basil
and tangerine washed over by the rotting sea.   
They alone sensed what he’d wanted
as he first stuck his shovel into clay
and flung the planets over his shoulder,
or used his thumbnail to cut smiles and frowns   
on the first blank faces. Even as the saints   
arrived to line before his throne singing
and a wisteria poked its lank blossoms
through the cloudbank at his feet,
he trained his gaze on the deflating globe
where the last spreadeagled Xs clung like insects,   
then vanished in puffs of luminous smoke,

which traveled a long way to sting his nostrils,   
the journey lasting more than ten lifetimes.   
A mauve vine corkscrewed up from the deep   
oblivion, carrying the singed fume
of things beautiful, noble, and wrong.

Mary Karr, “Disappointments of the Apocalypse” from The Devil's Tour. Copyright © 1993 by Mary Karr. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.
Source: The Devil's Tour (New Directions Publishing Corporation, 1993)
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