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Liz Martin

Neanderthalensis & Appendi

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My last Neanderthal, is one sexy Neanderthal.
With the pre-historic appeal of a sloped brow, hunting
prowess and hairy red sexuality that could make my nips
swell quicker than a pregnant lady's feet
at an all-night roller derby fest. There was a bridge

I went to once—red and covered, the clapboard worn
a seashore white where swollen river water rose up
to beat its sides. My last Neanderthal stood crouched

at the other end. Hair redder than I'd thought it'd be, wearing
a suit—broad shoulders-sliding down his stocky frame
like water over the falls. He likes to surf—my Neanderthal—

on a regulation longboard now, no driftwood for him
who so loves the sea. He lived on that little bit of Africa left
behind in Spain when the Atlantic pried apart the legs of the Gibraltar to let
water flow back to the Mediterranean. An arid, out of place
dessert marked his last stand; St. Michael's Cave near the
coastal shelf where wide open lands sustained
the procreation of countless humans, of all species, dining
on mollusks and mussels, my Neanderthal's most favorite.

Seventy-two percent of all case of appendicitis
were fatal in the year 1872. An organ
useful when we ate leaves, less needful for lattes.
My husband's appendix burst, a pre-historic vestibule
supplanted by swelling, releasing his snoring discomfort.
His grumpiness drives my decency to decline so I go
a little Middle Pleistocene when we go to the hospital
where smell's been removed as if it were a threat to health.
I curl up tight on a thin two seater near him, watching
the plastic tubes pump, the floors—fucking shiny—always
so—shiny—as if—shiny—fights off disease
too. His head lolls back, a bird remembering gravity,
too much dilaudid. His body sucks up sodium
chloride like concrete. This is just like hiking, he
wakes. Except we aren't going anywhere.

Elevator music starts
at 2 to soothe away infection. I pump
hand sanitizer and wonder, who the fuck
gets to pick these curtains? The pattern looks
composed by an irreverent two year old mad
at god, the world, and his mother, mostly
his mother, for getting him into this pastelly
painting shit in the first place. Muted colors
dragged across muddy nylon, over and over.
My Neanderthal's made cave paintings with more class.

Just below our flowering burning bush, there's a river.
I run beside it faster than fireflies trying to escape
a cat. The tree roots tug my toes out of alignment
with my ankles, and I fall down in time to see
my Neanderthal slip away from sight.
We've been dancing, he and I, in this
forest the last month. My husband's
recuperation drawing on and on
in a sea of morphine and Vicodin.
Is it enough to want only just
enough life to get through
each day the same as the day
before, or should I grab
the driftwood, and run
across the bridge?

The Scientist and the Neanderthal

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He took her through the microscope, showed her
the beauty in his nucleotides. AAATGCGCCCGC:
his blue eyes, adoring him down to his one remaining Siberian,
fifty thousand year old finger bone. The rest of him ground
up in biomolecular archeological chemistry prep to extract
this story. That at the Max Planck Institute of Evolutionary Biology
in Leipzig, where she worked, she'd sneak moments alone
with the DNA analyzer to bathe in his sequence, be swept
up in an ancient rutting her fingers twitching over the keys,
swapping an adenine for a guanine or a thymine
for a cytosine, to keep their conversation fresh.

The scientist first met her Neanderthal at 4 p.m., Central
European Time when she was assigned to assist
in the extraction, sucking data from ground up bone, shearing
the already fragmented sections into sequenceable bites,
year after year wearing on as the lines revealed his deepest
nature, and she found, There's nothing so different, you and I.
Crooked teeth, a hint of a smile, nudgings towards words,
to have seen him on the street, she would have fallen
for this man sensing his smell in passing.

One Saturday, she went to work
and shut herself in the Visual Reality Laboratory
to reconstruct his face. She fed reams of
Neanderthal imaging in, until she made his: a nose
as reassuring as your mother's laugh, high cheek bones tucked
under finely lined eyes, a great red beard.

That night she dreamed that once there
was a man who spoke in a language so dead
it'd been fossilized, but he would say to her,
his scientist, Come eat my fish,
and I'll scratch your back. In this we shall live on.

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