The Capacity for Malignancy is Ancient

The woman on the gallery floor says yes when I ask
if I can photograph the fossil of Protorohippus venticolum
that has the plaque naming it “The Dawn of Horses.”

It’s actually the only replica we have in the store, she says,
and shows me photographs of the original,
which has the same black horse shape,
black splintered ribs, nestled among prehistoric fish
in the sandy rock. His tail is missing, she says,
but it might just be under the fish.

How the ancestor of horses ended up on a lake bottom
is a mystery as complex as ours.
On Facebook my friend posts the announcement

that at least one type of cancer existed in humans
nearly two million years ago,
that the bone of a foot has been discovered
with the same cells as those that make us sick.

This way, we can confirm that death doesn’t need to evolve.

I still remember the spiral of tissue from the breast biopsy
floating in the fluid in the little jar, how I couldn’t lift
a gallon of milk or I’d start to bleed.

I am wearing the necklace that belonged
to my maternal grandmother, who died
and took her cancer with her when she was 24.

We wear fragile bodies, and now it would seem
that they have always known how to turn against us,
though there are so many other kinds of endings we could find.

No matter where we go, we walk on bones.

The gallery is air conditioned and clinical,
and its most stunning fossil is the only one that’s a replica,
a horse that is dog-sized and has toes instead of hooves.

The way it lies on its side reminds me
of the horse I had to euthanize because of tumors.

The man with a backhoe dug a ramp into a grave.
I led the horse to the bottom and the vet let him down
in stages. We watched him die to make sure
he wouldn’t know that he was being buried.

There used to be a mound over him, but now there is nothing.

I left his halter on so that whoever finds him
will understand that he was loved.

Title taken from article dated July 29, 2016, entitled “Scientists Find Cancer in Million-Year-Old Fossil”