Catherine Pierce
The Curator of the Earth Museum Speaks of People

We know that the people loved beautiful things.

From their earliest kind they were fools for shine

and order: necklaces strung with tiny seashells,

amulets of amethyst and chalcedony. The people

loved tall buildings with many gleaming windows;

from these they would survey the land below them,

parceled into fields or city blocks. In their later iterations,

they crafted vehicles that required the earth’s blood

to run, but this they extracted in quiet violences

in remote places, and then it was as if their shining

transports ran on nothing. The people lit their homes

with delicate glass globes, filaments vibrating

with a white-hot glow. Sometimes this glow came

from the earth’s bones, which the people mined

at great cost. Sometimes it came from scientists,

who learned that atoms could be harnessed to fuel both

light and ruin. The power plants where the atoms fizzed

were ugly concrete things, but the people built them far

from their most beautiful places and were content.


When the earth began dying in earnest, the people would not

believe it; this we know from our archival work.

There was too much beauty to be had, they thought,

too many emeralds and ostriches and villas.

The people had not made flying machines and elegant

spoons and great glass observation decks just to stay home

and worry. And so they did not worry, because

they loved beauty so much. The people were governed

by beauty, driven by it as their cattle were driven

by dogs. They could not see beyond it. Our archivists

are still cataloguing the data the people ignored;

the people had evolved to shutter themselves

from anything unbeautiful. In this their cleverness

warred against their nature: they devised ways to save

themselves, then rejected them again and again.

The wind turbines would interrupt the infinite blue

horizon, solar panels would pox the verdant fields,

and this was too great a tariff for people who loved

beauty above all else. Also, they did not like to think

of death. And so they went on with their amulets

and filaments, their observation decks and quiet violences.

They would be pleased to know that, though the organic

earth was of course unsalvageable, our digs have yielded

exquisite relics: silver stovetops, banisters, millions

of clear plastic vessels. Here in the museum, we honor

the people’s devotion to beauty: out of respect,

before we display their bones or baubles,

we take care to polish them to gleaming.

Found In Volume 51, No. 04
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Catherine Pierce
About the Author

Catherine Pierce is the current Poet Laureate of Mississippi and the author of four books of poems, most recently Danger Days (Saturnalia, 2020). Her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, the New York Times, The Nation, the Academy of American Poets’ Poem-a-Day series, and elsewhere, and has won two Pushcart Prizes. She co-directs the creative writing program at Mississippi State University.