When the lights first appeared in the sky
we called them angels. We’d stand outside
on sidewalks, on front porches, in the middle of the streets
and watch them sing and shimmer.
On clear nights, you could hear them.
“They’re singing glory to God,” said the TV preachers.
“They’re singing hallelujah. They’re coming for us,
so sing hallelujah, too.”
Soon, you could see them always, even in daylight,
a light so bright it outshone the sun,
and the singing grew louder, until it was all you could hear.
It rang in my ears as I hunkered down in the old fallout shelter.
We weren’t one of the families that ran out into the lights,
arms outstretched and casting no shadow.
They could see the face of God,
their vision no longer clouded by flesh and sin.
I stayed inside, and when I had to go out,
I wore dark glasses, and a hat,
like it was a day at the beach, and not
a trip to the grocery store
at the end of the world.
“We’re scavenging,” said my mother,
to make it an adventure. “We’re foraging
through the wreckage of a lost world.”
We were just going to the grocery store. Inside,
the shelves were still well stocked and gleaming,
the mechanisms of late capitalism keeping us fed
even while the world began to end
and the angels came ever closer.
It was just like before, but
the seasonal mural on the front window
replaced with a heavy coat of black paint,
so inside was lit only by fluorescent bulbs.
It took a long time for my eyes to adjust.
Our cashier was one of the believers.
“Can you believe,” he was asking my mother,
as he hands her the change,
“Can you believe they blacked out that window?
I want to feel the light on my face.”
My mother only smiles, but of course
he doesn’t see it,
because he is looking directly at the face of God,
and he is singing hallelujah
while he works the cash register at Stop’n’Shop.
We pack up the groceries in the trunk of the car, and
we fill the tank with gas, and
we fill a spare tank with gas, and
another one, “Just in case.”
“You’re wasting your time,” says the attendant.
“You’re wasting your time and your money, but
don’t let me stop you.”
She can see us just fine, and she watches my mother
haul the red plastic gasoline can onto the floor
behind the driver’s seat.
“The angels,” says the attendant. “They’re coming,
and soon. I don’t know what they’re gonna do when they get here,
but if it’s Jesus or aliens, you aren’t gonna need all that gas.”
My mother smiles tightly, and reaches for her wallet.
“Don’t bother,” says the attendant. “If you think that’s gonna save you
when they get here, well,
you see how far it takes you before they catch up.”
The radio is just dead air
hissing and spitting like a cat,
but the attendant has it playing;
maybe she wants to drown out the noise of the angels,
but the angels are all I can hear over the hum.
She is bouncing her leg in time with the angels’ song.
I am bouncing my leg in time with the angels’ song.
We’re almost dancing.
I understand the believers better now.