Ghost Species by Jillian Wasick

We were wrong to spurn 
the Neanderthals. 
Too fast 
we followed 
the first man who cried 
savage, his fingers pawing skull, 
and the scientists 
who nodded yes 
without looking side to side. 

I read this in a magazine left open, 
an issue from last year, when 
we still closed our days 
with the same turquoise door. 

But they plucked 
dark feathers for ceremony, 
colored their cheeks, 
broke the earth 
to press their dead 
into calmer land. 
Intention, superstition, 
worldview. We draw them 
closer to human. 
A charge made from nothing new, just 

from looking back 
at things settled in museums. 
Spears, jawbones craggy as cliffs, 
ankles edged by bone spurs 
jutting out like tiny, white lips. 

Slowly, geneticists turned true the few whispers.
The Neanderthals 
are in us. 
From both bodies wanting 
or broken halves breaching 
is unknown, 
as ancestor truths often go.
I turn the page and see my nails
need cutting. He’d smile 
when I told him, scurry and return
to set his clippers in my hands.
I’d press the silver, sending clicks
chiming, pale slits flying 
from my body as he stayed close. 

For thirty summers 
college students have traveled
to a cave ten stories 
tall in Gibraltar. 
Like ancient women knitting
they are hunched, 
chipping away at a sandy hearth,
pulling away pine-nut husks,
flint fallen from axes. 
Never bones 
found, just things  
once touched. 

I think of my ridged bobby pins
underneath our bed, wonder
how many more Saturdays 
he will sweep 
and still find them. 

The Neanderthals had 
a last refuge on Gibraltar. 
An expert called them the butterflies
and snow leopards of our time.
All of them a ghost species.
Still alive, but no longer enough.
They’d passed the point of no return.
And I wonder if there is a knowing,
if it is freeing or sweet.  
And what he would say,
looking back.

Jillian Wasick is a former public school educator and current instructional designer for a nonprofit organization. She was a Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing Fellow in 2019. Jillian enjoys dancing and trying to emulate the Wicked Witch while biking the streets of San Francisco, where she lives.

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