Apocalypse Poetry

apocalypse poem #1


I have no lengthy
to-do list to complete
days before the apocalypse

& plan to do nothing
apart from the usual
business of living

though I  might make love
to you
with more urgency
than usual, straining

to imprint some hint of us
into these atoms we call ours

while we still hold them

apocalypse poem #2 (longing for apocalypse)

the Millerites,
tired of waiting
for the second Advent,

said Christ
needed to be persuaded,
prayed down

from the clouds–
their faith a ladder
for His descent, a new Jacob’s

if you listen hard,
over 100 years later
you can still feel their prayers
& braided into new ones
a tether of longing
leashing heaven
to earth

but the ladder is empty
of descending
winged feet
& respects faith
if not the timetables
of men

& God waits still
for someone new
to wrestle
Him down

apocalypse poem #3 (daily faith)

my grandmother’s eschatology
was from Daniel & John, quoted
or read with my mother
in the afternoons, slow ones
after tomatoes were put up,
windows washed & the dusting done,
the jam jarred & herbs
strung & drying between rafters
in the root cellar

belief was for them
something that ran under
daily, practical things
softening the corners
of their lives & mouths
with all the possibility
of heaven, unseen
but anticipated
more than I longed
for that first kiss
before I had a boy in mind for it

like them, I weave
an appreciation
for the holy
through my life & it shines only
when you look for it
but it is there
braided into everything

do not mistake my flashes
of displayed faith
for something random
as heat lightning

it is always there–
this faith translated
to particles
hissing and charged–
something felt
more than it is seen

before the strike

apocalypse poem #4 (it’s temporary)

asteroids, floods, & eruptions
might sweep this face clean
of what crawls or walks on it
occasionally, a few seconds
in hours of geologic time




but she’s not telling
the how of it or the when
except what is written
in layers of sediment
turned stone–
glyphs we read
& wonder at meaning
when every gesture
could have permanence

consider the dinosaurs
running across mud
their footprints
uncovered now &
behind museum ropes

but we can’t guess
at what is kept
for the sake of memory
or just random fossilization

we don’t speak
the language of stone
or know what planets whisper
to each other
across near-vacuum

& how could we
that we are
count those layers & say
we have learned anything
but our own smallness,
the duration of our heartbeats
uncharted in stone

begging the question

if we can’t know our beginning
how can we presume
to impose a supposed end
on this living

so much bigger
than any of us?

Apocalypse poem #5–the apocalypse survivor kit

Lu Zenghai is building an ark
to float his family safe through what he thinks
is another flood coming & we laugh,
the way they laughed at Noah
because he is millenia out of fashion
in survival techniques

in the ’50s, 60s & ’70s
bomb shelters were the fashion
of the passionately paranoid
while we children crawled under desks
in school, whispering below
the shriek of sirens
singing down bombs
that never struck

as if planes were the real threat

what protection would those desks offer
from warheads that were aimed
but never deployed
just stockpiled in a race
with no winners

no–there was no running from that
no matter how deep you dug
or how thick you poured
concrete walls

the survivalists appeared again
for the Y2K disaster
that never happened
but they kept their propane tanks
& tinned beef/just in case

& now people of similar preparedness
bordering on insanity have catalogs
& order apocalypse survival kits,
backpacks heavy with water purifiers
& jerky.  the best have bullets
(gun not included)
for hunting or protecting
what earth
remains soft enough to till
or build on

odd, if you think of it
with most everyone else dead
& the planet empty to choose space from
what would be left worth killing

or worth fighting over
to own?

apocalypse poem #6–the prophet

stained sneakers scuffing sidewalks
hands stuffed in the pocket of a torn pea-coat
Daniel in bluejeans screams sermons
into frozen air. red-bearded,
handknit cap hiding long curls,
he’s a latter-day prophet promising damnation,
God-ridden to rags & sticks, eyes lit
by bigger things than the sun;
reciting the end he has read
sprayed in graffiti
in that most ancient scrawl:

Me’ne, Me’ne, Te’kel,

urgency we ignore as insanity
but Daniel knows something,
brain blasted clean  of all
but his message.  he reads it
written in constellations;
the voice of God in a book
echoed as loud as what’s roared
by the bear of the north sky–
that same prophecy
pulled by seven plowing oxen
shining brighter in their burn

than any brimstone

***the highlighted words have meaning assigned to them from the book of Daniel in the OT as:

Mene[e]: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 Tekel[f]: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 Peres[g]: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.

The old “handwriting on the wall.”

This is a reworking of an old, old poem I got the inspiration for before I had the maturity and teeth to write it the way it needed to be (around 1986).  You can read it here.

apocalypse poem #7–terminus

there are a million
small deaths waiting–
one for each of us

predicted, certain

each end as real
as every beginning

if this world does fall further
past gravity’s tumble
we do not need to reach ashes
before our rise & singing flight

there are degrees of ending
& degrees of becoming
happening underfoot

unrecorded in this now

daily something dies
& some other thing wakes up
every second of this spin

mine is coming

apocalypse poem #8: Mine & yours

Posted on December 8, 2012

I am tired
of apocalypse

& just want to
hold us tight

until it’s not my mine
or your yours


but just another
sort of ending

Apocalypse poem #9–5 minutes on the timer

you can get
an HIV test now
with results
20 minutes later

but that’s still
plenty of time
for that young man
to think about
who he has been with
how many times
with & without
since his last negative

if guilt & fear
are viruses
he’s infected

& terrified
of the results
he leaves

with 5 minutes left
on the timer

apocalypse poem #10–umarked

when I was in fifth grade
at the Baptist school
our teacher passed out
what looked like newspapers
describing people



in the middle of work
cooking dinner
shoe shopping

& for a moment
I felt certainly damned
having skipped past rapture

but the classroom was full
& the teacher still there
so I knew

it was a lure for sinners
that I bit

but for that minute
barely past 10
my throat would not
release breath, or open

& for that second
I felt forgotten,
or rejected
by God

by that cosmic net

I turned my hand over
to look at my palm
still unmarked
& wondering

what that mark
would look like

*** I say this as a person of faith, but this really happened to me in fifth grade, and I wonder how the adults justified passing out the fake newspapers to us.  Now I wonder how people cuddled in a smugness they call faith can justify frightening children into stumbling up the aisle and kneeling there.  To me, that is less an act of faith and more a desperate lunge toward a life preserver tossed out over that threatened lake of fire, or a get out of hell free card.  Makes me unpopular with a lot of evangelicals, but I cannot embrace a doctrine cooked up in the last 200 years or so.  Amillenialists, premillenialists, postmillenialists–makes my head ache to think about.  Guess we can just argue about it in eternity when we get there.


another apocalypse poem (balloons)

I am letting time slip
uncharted, minnows
too small
for this net to catch,
but still nibbling
my fingertips and gone
disinterested in bait

and the missed minutes
fizzing and foaming up
like bubbles in champagne
add up to one more day poured out
an empty bottle
tracked in a red X on the calendar,
2359 to 0000
and the seven-day forecast
gives weather for Saturday
regardless of the Mayans
whose predictions
are much older

and weather will happen
independent of our speculation
whether rain or fire falls

if I buy balloons
and release them singly,
until each passes my limited vision
to balance in clouds

it is my way of worship
my gesture, meaning only this:
We have less time than we knew
and that time buoyant, and cloven, 

lucent, and missile, 
and wild.

***italics are from Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm.

23 Responses to Apocalypse Poetry

  1. This series of poems deserves to be written on walls real and imagined from here to the moon. 7 is my favourite I think: so dense with meaning it made my neurons tingle… Thank you 😀

  2. Oh, goodness, thank you! I just love the image you used to describe what should be done with them–hope you use it in your poetry–which I love.

  3. mobius faith says:

    HEy when’s your next apocalypse poem arriving? I miss them.
    Possible subject – benefits of the apocalypse ? hehehehe.

  4. Lindy Lee says:

    Bottom line: nobody knows
    Excellent series of poetry; thank you for writing them & allowing me to read them…

  5. Alice Keys says:

    I just found these. I always wondered how hiding under the desk could help in nuclear war. All the preparedness did was terrorize me as a child. Makes me wonder what the purpose of all the obviously useless preparation really was. Thanks for these poems. They remind me to think.

    I like this part of the first one “to imprint some hint of us into these atoms we call ours while we still hold them” because it reminds me how temporary our borrowing of these bodies is.

    I like the thought of wresting God down from heaven. Wouldn’t he want to come after all this time away?

    What a lovely group of poems, Susan.

    • Alice, thank you! Hahaha (paired with a shudder) about those air-raid drills. I wonder at the wisdom of that to this day.

      Also agree with the temporary -ness of this existence. We are made of borrowed things, on borrowed time.

      Also, as to wrestling God down, I am of the opinion He hasn’t really ever left.

      • Alice Keys says:

        Even the “stop, drop and roll” fire exercises gave me screaming nightmares in third grade. At least they could have had some use.

        Borrowed time There’s a poem in this phrase.

        What? You don’t think God’s an isolated old man living along on the clouds at the top of Jacob’s ladder?

  6. Eric says:

    Finally got the time to look these over closely. Like your insights. Very nice reflections of recollection without raising voice inflection or taking a collection. 😀

  7. Oh, If only I’d found these when my family was panicking, they would’ve been comforting! Loved them!

  8. Eston says:

    The thesaurus forgot “crossfire” and “tête-à-tête” (although that word denotes exclusivity). Anyway, I just wanted to felicitate you on your apocalyptic masterpieces. I took particular interest in “there are a million small deaths waiting–one for each of us”. That line is ineffably potent and penetrative, it could stand alone as its own poem. You are threadbare and baroque simultaneously and have a masterful poetic sympathy. Brilliant work.

  9. Heartafire says:

    superb series…wonderful, wonderful writing.

  10. I haven’t been following WP too closely for a while and lost track of some of my favorites. Happened to see your comment on another blog and stopped by to see what you were up to. Glad that the Apocalypse tag line called out to click the link. What a great collection, I particularly loved 2,3,8 and 10. I think that I recognized quite a few elements of my childhood in the collection.

altercation, analysis, argument, argumentation, canvass, colloquy, confabulation, conference, consideration, consultation, contention, controversy, conversation, crossfire, debate, deliberation, dialogue, discourse, disputation, dispute, dissertation, examination, exchange, excursus, groupthink, huddle, interview, meet, meeting, powwow, quarrel, review, scrutiny, symposium, ventilation, wrangling...these are all the synonyms in the thesaurus and all are welcome here!

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