Amy Newman

The Great Disappointment

 

At Ascension Rock in Whitehall, New York, on the night of
October 22, 1844, ten thousand Millerites (named for their
leader William Miller) gathered to wait for Christ's return—
a night known thereafter as the Great Disappointment.


To wait for Christ, we stood scoured clean
in cotton robes, all cotton-wrapped, sure,
upturned. We'd scrubbed this temporary earth
for evidence, and Miller rendered Daniel perfect
fact: the beasts, the numbers read as promise,
the angels' tiny trumpet blasting you're forgiven.

Lord, for all mistakes I ask we be forgiven.
Our dreaming of the world wrenched clean,
dissolved for us, was vanity. I promise
to accept flawed rests as rapt, sure
notes, a theme with many rests, a perfect
grace on perfect air—imperfect, brittle earth,

this counterfeit reversal. False sky above fake earth,
its tender scenery that we were given for
the first true world when wonder made imperfect
all perfection. The stupid girl and Adam, unclean
bodies restless, hair, arms, legs, wrapped, sure.
Scared. Out of luck for breaking the first promise.

Gates shut then. Grief, this compromise:
a muddled, deep-befuddled people trudging earth,
shaping flawed lines in braided form toward rapture.
(In this poem, six: a perfect number, so, forgiven?)
Then at Ascension we spoke into clean
pure air, Knock Knock! Perfection! Now! And Perfect!

but we remained. Bad planning? An imperfect
understanding of the prophet Daniel's promise?
Miller saw Rome as a vain lion; I watched a mother clean
her child and fold him in her cloak, saying On earth,
the holy land's a door, a gift; we're not forgiven
.
The door stayed locked. In imperfection trapped. Shore

vanishes, old enchantments fade. The withdrawn rapture
deflates the God balloon. I wanted to be perfect,
to rise in yeasty faith through air, forgiven,
the ghost myth making good on every promise
offered: each prophecy and wish, and earth
scrubbed of us, scoured of stain, so clean

it burns. No dice. What now? Hope again for rapture
on this earth with hungry kids, with nothing but this perfect
sense of loss? God, come clean with some proof, and be forgiven.