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.