The Extinction Museum: Exhibit #28 (incandescent bulb, unlit)

Tina May Hall


It used to be hard to tell manmade light from not. Satellites swam with the stars. Bulbs hidden behind glass mimicked the sky. In darkened rooms, we opened our eyes. Great washes of light played across the wall. Landscapes we’d never seen, giants with shellacked hair and painted lips. We were profligate with illumination. Some places never dimmed. We drowned the stars to cure our insomnia. Your grandfather took you outside on summer nights to watch the international space station zoom overhead, a meteorite, far-off vessel. You both imagined the people inside the metal case, floating like embryos, the carapace spreading its wings toward the sun. That summer, it flew over your yard again and again, binding the world with the thread of its orbit. When cut free, it spiraled out of our reach. After a few days we could no longer hear their voices, and after a few weeks, they were beyond our instruments of perception altogether, a reflection moving too fast. I used to string fairy lights in every room, basked in their candle glow, never dreaming we’d be left only with flame. That the sparks of lightning bugs would bring us to tears. That every night would burn and burn and burn.