The Fieldstone Review

Two skeletons in a cave in France

by gillian harding-russell

Her curved skull reaches farther back
than his more compact bone helmet
(but intelligence, we now amend
our theory, is not necessarily
related to brain size, and we – we aver
– are more intelligent than the elephant
or beluga though I’ve never mastered
savannah hoot or undersea call). Certainly
her slouch of back tells us she is Neanderthal.
Note how her humerus and radius reach
towards his forearm that seems to grab her,
something sprightly in his knees as if
doing a jig around her seated there in
bone relief on the dirt. He seems to plead
straighter backed, leaning forward
as if to make a reasonable point.
And having broken into the ritual dark
or firelit pathway of her cave, willfully
or by accident, before or after her kind
were threatened– she lacking protection
and a mate – the hollow gaze of eye socket
locked on eye socket tells a story though
the doors to those houses have been open to
the wind these 40,000 years. The way each
faces each, brachial bones outstretched to take
or embrace (or were they placed by some
other for meaning or its irony?)
Whether or not there was a transgression, suffice
it to say, there was a marriage of blood
– we carry her mitochondrial line on our mother’s
side, from diabetes to pale skin diseases, red hair
and green eyes to sensitivity to the light, dislike
for the bitterer vegetables, the fussier blood
types A and B. She might have danced
to his wishes and acquiesced, impressed by his upright stature
or fought, cursed him for her own he-man Neanderthal
slouched and bleeding into the dirt, but something we cannot
now deny is random quantum influence (mixed, enriched?
or sometime incompatible?) on a battlefield of bullying genes.