A Woman Walking Alone

I didn’t plan to be out so long.
The highway crossed. A gate ducked.
A road stretched. Pavement suspended.
The forked paths noted for tomorrow;
wishing to lay myself into every direction.

My roommate shakes her head,
my sogged socks grovel at the fire.
Two women called those roads unsafe–
older women, trained out of solitude.
Women earning long lives
by avoiding backroads like these.

A hummingbird notices me noticing her.
Water ripples up through the mud
by discarded cans and fabric
that was once something.
Must be a spring. Staring where
the water licks the dipping fern leaf
can be something peaceful.

I used to carry a cylinder of pepper spray.
Pink for breast cancer. Warmed brass
knuckles in my palm when sidewalks
forced my body three-two-one
feet from the body of a man.

These roads are made for men
driving one-handed with cheap beer,
far enough from signs to feel invincible.
Farther than a voice, than a dying thing,
than a run can win.

A butterfly knife, too.
Dulled for whipping tricks.
The edge denting my wrist
when I missed the catch,
my knee when it flew,
my foot when it bounced.
Harmless as a deck of cards.

Twisting into every dead end,
I’m deserving of my place here
without telling where I am;
without tagging company along;
without finding comfort in hateful tools.

It took a couple of days
to realize I was empty-handed.
Pepperless, brassless, butterless–
and still securely fastened in the world.

The rain suspends in trees,
quiet-colored fungus blooms in moss.
Snails lead a new way,
views broken by dishabited branches.

I tired of the weight
as I tired of being told
how strong I was. [Am.]
Tired of men owning
where I wanted to be.

Claiming no more, but no less
than the ground underfoot.
Drive by slow and marvel
a woman walking alone.

First published in FOLIO, Volume 36, Spring 2021.

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