When I Was Walking

When I Was Walking

by Abigail Swire

When I was walking last night I found the remains of a bird, gray wing feathers splayed out, delicate bones, pretty lungs intact set neatly aside. When I was walking last week I heard the banter of two owls and the sizzling of the power lines. Walk at night, you can spy briefly on other lives you will never know, in warm lit dining rooms or the cold flash of blue screens.The sound of my own heartbeat lodged in stillness.

When I was walking in the desert, I got dust in my eyes and teeth every time I tried to cross the intersection. There was an antique shop there, filled with strange collections, and the best damn latina beauty shop this side of the Rio Grande. The sunset would strike pink on the snow capped peaks of Donner Pass.

When I was walking in the swamps and creeks and mountains I found that you could scare the snakes out of hiding to watch them flee. That some water is still so clear and pure you can drink the mineral tang and cure poison ivy in an instant, that each tree and tangle of weed has its own markings and character to navigate by. There are real bones bleached white by the sun and plastic deer bones shattered by buckshot, and everybody throws their old couches and bedsprings and junk at the back of the property line.

I learned that it is better to walk out than have someone walk out on me.

When I was walking the dirt roads and fields I found broken metal and buried cars, a $100 dropped by a drug dealer, other unclaimed treasure, an expired condom still in its wrapper. Burned photographs of lovers split at the seams and tossed out of car windows. When I was younger, my grandmother walked with me and worried when I called the horses over to the fence. She worried about everything. Mostly me getting kidnapped. So she told me a horrible story of when she and her sister got hijacked back during the 1930s. She told me a lot of stories that were hers, and I never got kidnapped, and no one wants to kidnap me now.

When I walked the highways I found white crosses and plastic flowers for the dead, a motorcycle helmet that had flown off and tumbled down the ravine, with no head in it.

When I walked the city streets I found strangers and friends, kindness and apathy. I walked in and out of trouble. I found bars and blackjack and nightclubs and galleries and entrances to train stations that yawn out of plazas. One time I was walking and I found 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, where a handsome malinois was pacing and a guard was giving directions.

I wore the wrong shoes to Times Square where a vendor was selling stencils of St. Patrick’s. The straps cut deep wounds into my feet. 

“Bud spokoyen!”

That one rubbed ointment on and bandaged them up while he argued furiously with his mother in Russian. Maybe it wasn’t love, but it was something.

My friend assesses the damage when I can no longer walk. She lays me down on her bohemian bed and treats the wounds, brings out a bottle of wine. This is her secret side, the one who only wants to nurture and be shielded from the blades of life. What the hell is wrong with our men anyway? 

And that other one, that old friend I used to know, again with the ointment and the bandaids, puts my feet up in his lap with some kind of humility, if only to stroke the lightning bolt of seeing clearly tattooed on my ankle. It was a gathering at my girlfriend’s house that turned into an overnighter.

“Thanks for, you know, holding my hair last night,” he says. Ok. Whatever.

When I was 18, I walked down to the corner store to meet him. I waited a long time. He never showed. Walking helps you to forgive, but never forget.

Poor mistreated feet, who have served me so well. Even with the exhaustion of all those miles on them, I could still walk the world, until I hit the mapmaker’s edge and tip off beyond this place, where there be dragons.

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