about the author

Chrys Tobey’s first poetry book, A Woman is a Woman is a Woman is a Woman, was published by Steel Toe Books in January 2017. Her poetry has been published in numerous literary journals, including Ploughshares, The Cincinnati Review, New Ohio Review, Rattle, Smartish Pace, and featured on Verse Daily. Chrys lives and teaches in Portland, Oregon.

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Four Poems 

Chrys Tobey

Because We Were Neanderthals

we bartered lies. Lies for feathers. Lies for sleep.
This was before the crinkle of paper, the drop of coin,

the gleam of gold. This was before we knew anything
Homo erectus, or anything Sapien. Before we knew

there was an island of very short people with very short
elephants not far from us. We’d trade That loincloth

is so slimming
for shell. We’d trade Nah, that bear looks
for a hunk of carcass. We’d trade Of course,

this Neanderthal is your father
for fig, for fire. Sometimes
we’d exchange lies for lies. Sometimes we’d deal lies

and the winners won more lies. We knew nothing of compulsion,
nothing of neurosis. Lies fell from us like light from sky.

We’d double up. We’d double down and this is when lies
would lodge in my throat like apple, like bad seed.

Letter to My Ancestor

“Everyone living outside of Africa today has a small amount of Neanderthal in them.” —National Geographic

Dear Neanderthal, I’m going to be frank: some stuff has changed
in the past forty thousand years. And, since I used the word frank
and there happens to be a large number of humans, particularly men,
named Frank, I’m going to go ahead and call you Frank. I’ve
loved a few Franks, especially poets named Frank, so think of it as
a term of endearment; plus, I would imagine some years ago you did
not walk up to other Neanderthals and say, Hey, Neanderthal. Maybe
you actually went by Frank. Frank, we have this thing called technology
and sometimes we stare at this technology so hard we walk right into
each other—the way you must’ve walked into trees while you were
contemplating the shape of your toes. We also have these stars that
a lot of them—and sometimes someone steps on a star, or sometimes we
       drop stars
from the sky. We have sticks that shoot stars, and we often shoot stars
at the wrong people or we shoot them for no reason at all. And, we’re
captivated by big boxes that show us things like C-SPAN—where men
other men for bad behavior—their faces get real red and they ask the same
questions over and over and over, and they pretend like they care and they
like they’ve never done this bad behavior. And by the way, we seem to have
a lot of men. Frank, I’m unsure how this happened. But, these men like
to tie fabric around their necks, and show what large brains they have by
in big wood boxes, and show what large penises they have by driving giant
Frank, I doubt you thought much about the size of your penis, since you
didn’t wear much more than a furry loincloth, but I’m sure the scientists will
       one day
figure out what you thought about your penis. Frank, we dress wolves up in
sweaters and tie bows in their hair. We even have strollers for our wolves;
sometimes we wheel them around like babies, and we send them to classes
for bad behavior. We spend a lot of time thinking about bad behavior. Frank,
we take fat from animals and inject it into our faces. This makes us look
confused. And, fathers leave their children a lot. It leaves this sadness in the
children. Frank, I bet you never left your children, since you knew they’d
probably be eaten by some sabre tooth tiger or attacked by a woolly
Frank, I often find myself walking around smelling the armpits of my
dirty shirts. I find his pheromones calming and I’ve wondered if I got this
you. I also bite my nails and I think this may be genetic, too. Frank, I’m
to live longer than you. Frank, we sometimes kill people who don’t like
to shoot stars. Do you know what we kill them with—stars. I like to imagine
wouldn’t have liked these stars. I like to think you tried to build bridges of
when the Homo sapiens arrived. I like to imagine it would bother you
the elephants are almost gone. Frank, I like to think you cared.
Frank, please tell me you cared.

Is This What You Want from a Neanderthal?

Guttural everything—grunt & groan & grit & grime
& look, I’m snorting like a pig, like a pig rolling

in shit. Where are my manners? Pardon my primitive
ways—dumb, dumb Neanderthal. Dense Neanderthal. Stupid

Neanderthal with my stupid stone & stick. This is all
I know, Neanderthal. Come untie my tongue. Come clean

my pores, come scrape blood from my nails. Teach me
how to pronounce salmon. Teach me how to say, Oh, this cave

has been overly gentrified
. Teach me how to be more than breast
& hip, how a woman + Neanderthal + poet = screwed. It’s been years

since I’ve taken a bath. Maybe I’ve never taken a bath. Dirty, dirty
Neanderthal. Can’t figure out how to dip myself in blue. All sweat, no

sense Neanderthal. Such an idiot, Neanderthal. I don’t know how I’ve
ice & sleet & snow & spear & bear & men & all this freezing fucking cold.


Bicycles. Electric bicycles. Airplanes. Fighter jets.
Drones. Drones the size of a hummingbird. Cars.
Hybrid cars. Electric cars. Coal or oil, Frank? Oil
or coal? Vacuum cleaners. Medicine. Radiation.
X-rays. MRI. CAT Scan. Acronyms, Frank, acronyms.
Vaccination. Blood transfusion. 3D printing. We can
print you a new heart, Frank. Nuclear facilities. Nuclear
meltdown. Nuclear missile. So many stars, Frank. High-speed
trains. Social media. Twitter. Not a bird, Frank, not a bird.
Unitards. YouTube. Retrofit. Man on the moon. Telescope.
Spacecraft. Mission to Mars, Frank, mission to Mars. LinkedIn.
Telephone. Cellphone. Ring, ring, can you hear me, Frank,
can you hear me? Nuclear fish. Fish farms. No more fish,
Frank. Antibiotics. Antibiotic resistant. Smog rhymes with log.
Television. Reality television. Naked and Afraid, Frank. Skype.
Aspartame. Electroshock. Electric chair. Lethal injection. Toaster
oven. Microwave. Lobotomy. Lunesta in my urine, Frank. Corporation.
Acid rain. Agent Orange. Money, Frank, money. Ships. Cruise ships.
Military ships. Cuisinart. Typewriter. Computer. Google. Googly
goo, Frank, googly goo. Self-driving car. Googly goo. Carbon
emissions. Carbon this. Carbon that. Superstorm. Superstore.
Superman. Elephant shoe, Frank, elephant shoe.

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