John of Patmos Revises Revelation

John of Patmos Revises Revelation

by Kristin Berkey-Abbott


He knows that no one will understand
his visions: long tubes of travelers hurtle
through the skies—and what strange
bird lifts them aloft? This gleaming
creature, like nothing he’s ever seen.

Other birds fly into the center of his dreams,
but these he recognizes, yet he can’t believe
their role in the coming apocalypse.
Avian Avenging Angels:
how can these things be true?

He changes a few details, adds a pale
horse, with a paler rider.
Then for good measure adds three.
How fearsome is the number four.

More believable to have death delivered
on horseback than on feathers.
The end, the same regardless,
the human body no match
for microorganisms he can’t even name,
the sanctuary mistaken for the invader,
microbes laughing at antibiotics
as the two play chess to settle
the score for the soul.

John of Patmos lacks the language
to describe the terrifying elements of his vision.
It will be many hundreds of years before microscopes
allow easy access to this apocalyptic
landscape. In the meantime, we envision
the end, stars falling from the scorched sky
and pounding hooves.

We like the bang better than the whimper.
How mundane to be felled by flu
in an age of spectacular diseases;
how anticlimactic to be destroyed by the common
landmine in a time of geopolitical firestorms.
John of Patmos understands the eschatological
obligations and so sets out upon his revisions.

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