by Marc Jampole
We can’t remember why they failed
so we imagine many tales:
extinct from years of interbreeding,
their DNA randomly floats in our genome mead
or in a worldwide species war
our longer limbs impaled their shorter ones
after hundreds of thousands of summers of sameness
they failed to learn new ways when ice came south
or gradual dwindling from a minor handicap
in the peaceful fight for scraps of food:
their men and women stalked big game together,
our men pursued the larger brutes
while women gathered nuts and fruit
in a dance of death they stabbed their prey,
we harpooned ours from far away
their pelvis could not take the shock ours could
and made them run more slowly through the woods
for shorter lengths of time
and they couldn’t speak or hear
the differences in simple sounds
like sit and seer.
Perhaps their ears were too attuned
to the constant humming of the Earth
as it hurtles into space around the sun
and the sorrowful groaning of shifting plates
made them too crazy to mate.
1-The Mousterian culture of the Neanderthals flourished worldwide between 250,000 and 35,000 years ago.
Originally published in Slant #22 (May 2009)
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