National Geographic just published new findings in an article called, “This Neanderthal Child Grew Up Just Like Us” that greatly inform what we know about growth patterns and lives of Neanderthals living over 49,000 years ago.
The article that inspired me to the write the poem (penned in Spanish by Santi), “Poema en un martes cualquiera, dedicado a Lucy” [“A Poem on a Random Tuesday, dedicated to Lucy”] in House Key was also about the remains of a female Neanderthal discovered in the El Sidrón caves of northern Spain. An enterprising set of twin scientists recreated their interpretation of what she may have been like, based upon the DNA and other data collected about her at the site.
Taking it a step further, the idea haunts me that the love that developed between early couples and their families could be genetically transmitted through the ages in ways we don’t yet comprehend. This fascinating concept of DNA as a vehicle carrying and perpetuating both our personal and collective histories plays out through House Key as a Genesis story.
Santi has a clear vision of this. Jordan is starting to figure it out in Chapter 18: Flickering Candles, when she observes:
“Santi’s poem talked about their long and painful walk. Figuratively. Lucy, believed to be our oldest known common ancestor, predated both Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons, her DNA common to them both. Here was a story about Lucy, the original mother and her trajectory through thousands of years to get to El Sidrón. Santi’s cycle was timeless and repetitive. There we were then. Here we are now.”
Even so, the relevance of Santi’s poem comes in bursts of epiphanies for Jordan whose external world is helping her make sense of her internal reality. This new self-awareness increases as events unfold around her in Chapter 32: Believe to See:
“I also think he did it because he wanted to draw me out of the little cave inside myself. I knew this place; it was peaceful and safe there. I could see it, too. Random words to a familiar poem that belonged to a longer story of us came to me in pieces, bringing my world into better focus: De polvo a polvo pasamos Viviendo vidas a suertes Valientes pero aterrados Vulnerables pero fuertes, Como briznas de hierba Frente la cueva rocosa Aunque su orilla se pierda Entre la mar borrascosa. [Translation: From dust to dust we pass Living lives by chance Brave but terrified Vulnerable yet strong Like blades of grass Before the rocky cave Even if its shore gets lost Amidst the stormy sea.] The poetic meter is more effective in Spanish, of course, since it was originally written and designed for Spanish, but you get the idea. The Biblical allusions to the Book of Genesis are sprinkled throughout the entire poem, but it also implies a self-replenishing cycle that manifests in the mind as well as the body.
Jordan concludes: “I’d been hiding there, trying to paint memories on the walls of my mind so I could own them again. Venturing into the grassy sunshine might mean falling off a precipice, getting swept away and losing them forever.”
But the poem also reveals some clues about what may have gone amiss back then that needs to get straightened out now. Santi, whose personality comes across as more direct, aggressive and, therefore, confident, suggests to Jordan that they take a trip to El Sidrón. He wants them to go back to the origin of things, back to the source, to learn more about themselves and each other. Such an adventure into the deep past may be in their future…