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Caveman by Jonathan Fletcher

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Though less than two percent of you dwells in me,
I feel you still, Neanderthal, in my blood, mind.


Though separated by 40,000 years, we both know
what it’s like to be misunderstood. Did you think,


speak, paint in symbols? Or honor your dead with
burial rites? There’s no scientific consensus.


None, either, on what, biologically, causes mental
illness. Despite how we’ve been depicted, we’re


no more prone to violence than anyone else; more
often than not, we’re victims. A club is no match


for a spear launched from an atlatl; or arrows with
tips dipped in poison. What chance did you have


against volleys of darts or javelins, equipped only
with a club that could crush a skull? What’s


wrong with the brain in mine? I want to excavate;
I need to know: why am I made like this? What


can I do? Won’t you help? According to Ed Yong
of The Atlantic, the higher the percentage of your


genes, the greater the risk of depression. Who’s to
blame but evolution? A cave can be physical or


mental. We both know what it’s like to live in one.
I wish I knew you better, as well as my sapient


ancestors who you met and fought, yet mated with,
too, starting 55,000 years ago. When not warring


over ibex, bison, mammoths, aurochs, you learned
to coexist; so, too, my illness and me. Though not


extinct like you, I’ve been close. But maybe never
alone. In my blood, you’ve survived. So have I.

Pizarro by Jonathan Fletcher

I often wish I could cough you up, spit
you out, mucous, arquebus, and all,
then rinse my mouth of conquistador.


Were cleansing the body that easy!

Instead, you stay in mine, as though a
light-complected homunculus
inside indigenous flesh. And
stamp around in boots of brass,
each spurred at the back,
treating tissue like territory.


When I itch, I picture you, falchion in
hand, poking beneath my brown
skin, searching
for more terrain to claim, rule.


Was the whole of Perú not enough?

Even when I feel no urge to scratch,
I know you’re still within me,
part of me. Just
smaller, the size of cells.


Can DNA be decolonized?
What’s the point of hating one’s blood?


Only when I start to study my ancestral
mitosis, find kin outside my familial
nucleus, write the story I want,
does the tip of your sword dull,
the steps of your boots soften.


I then hope, pray, to someday disarm
you, forget you. And, armed with
new knowledge for bolas,
experience for tumi,
reclaim this colonized body.

Both poems were originally published in

Otherwise Engaged: A Literature and Arts Journal

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Originally from San Antonio, Texas, Jonathan Fletcher (he/him/his), a BIPOC writer, currently resides in New York City, where he is pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in Poetry at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. He has been published in Arts Alive San Antonio, The BeZine, Clips and Pages, Door is a Jar, DoubleSpeak, Flora Fiction, FlowerSong Press, fws: a journal of literature & art, Half Hour to Kill, Lone Stars, MONO., New Feathers, OneBlackBoyLikeThat Review, riverSedge, Synkroniciti, The Thing Itself, TEJASCOVIDO, Unlikely Stories Mark V, voicemail poems, Voices de la Luna, and Waco WordFest. His work has also been featured at The Briscoe Western Art Museum. He can be found here: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

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