Neanderthal Bones, 1856

He was a man, for sure,
the skeleton in the German cave,
but odd: squatty with a swept-back skull.
Nearly human, but not quite.
But if not human, what?

He baffled the brightest and the best.
The horizon of their minds was Genesis.
They guessed: a Cossack,
a bowlegged arthritic Russian
with a broken leg and rickets
who’d crawled into the cave to die.

But then they found another at Gibraltar,
hippopotamus bones in Yorkshire,
while Mary Anning: she sold ichthyosaurs
by the seashore. That settled it for some:
a vast and ancient world burst from those bones,
and we are children there,
with cousins.

Most couldn’t make the leap. They kept strutting
their straight and narrow streets
as sure as you and I are now
that everything they’d always known as true,

As sure as you and I are now
of everything we’ve always known…

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