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Fiction, by Tina May Hall

The Extinction Museum: Exhibit #357 (twenty-three wax cylinders of Tennyson reading “The Charge of the Light Brigade” c.1890)

Poetry should cut. It should cleave. We crave the needle and the ax. When Edison sent his agents round to Tennyson’s house they transported the wax cylinders in leather and pasteboard cases, chemical smelling, weeping black in the rain. It took 4000 dusk-colored beetles to make the dye to stain the cowhide and 4 trees to shape the ribcage of the boxes. The trees were cut from forests in the north, on a different continent, floated down rivers, barked against barges, pulped by steel teeth into new matter. Tennyson’s voice was two years removed from disappearance. His fingertips probed the wax as the agents tried to explain the mechanics of sound. His knuckles left a ridge in the recording that thumps like a man clapping. Tennyson demonstrated his understanding of sound seven times for them before they were satisfied. The beetles were collected at night by children paid half-wages. They were shy creatures in search of each other, their skins just beginning to harden.

 

The Extinction Museum: Exhibit #7 (String of Eighty-Four Wolf Teeth—Mated Pair)

Bones. Fur. West wind (vole musk and leaf mold). Roadside (old blood and bitterroot). Deep pond (otter oil and aluminum). Barn (hay and mice and creosote and sick cattle). Old hunting path (taint of sunscreen and human sweat). Stars (dust of geese flying, filament of snow, lilac petals blowing, fragments of caribou femur, laved and spat out).

 

The Extinction Museum: Exhibit #36 (Lunar Rock Stored in Stainless Steel and Plexiglas Cabinet Purged by Nitrogen)

My heart felt tethered to yours, as it did to all stones, including the moon that pressed down on us in the dark. We sang songs to it, offered fresh meat, charted its paring away and resurrection. The nights it fled us were terrible ones, filled with suffering and moaning. People burrowed into the ground on those nights to get away from the empty sky. After a while their fingernails stopped growing back. Those of us lucky enough to have tents chalked a white disc on the ceiling to keep us sane. You slept with your head on my shoulder and my skin itched with your nightmares. Nonetheless, I lay quiet, made a hole in my memory the size of the moon to hold all the things we no longer said. Talisman was a forbidden word, as were galaxy and mother. Out on the plains, a white flower grew, poison, but sweet smelling. In the moonlight, the petals mimicked the Milky Way, exuded longing, a phosphoric shimmer, the need to be touched, no matter the cost.

Tina May Hall

About Tina May Hall

Tina May Hall lives and teaches in upstate New York. Her collection of stories, The Physics of Imaginary Objects, won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She is the recipient of an NEA grant, and her stories have appeared in 3rd Bed, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, Descant, The Collagist, and other journals.
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