Human Beings Flitting Through the Trees, A Poem by Chris Russell

The walking ritual was something my grandparents did every day with one another.

They would start in the woods out behind their apartment

and end up on the other side of the city by late morning,

only to return and head off to their coffee break

at one of the local diners.

I’d beg for them to take me with them on the weekend,

so, we could forage for teaberry and lemongrass

and turn over rocks and logs

looking for the elusive brown recluse

or whatever other rarity we could find out there.

And speaking of rarities, after grandpa died,

grandma kept walking the same route until her feet went numb

under the tenth year, I think.

They would know no more stairs after that,

but her knees and calves would still feel the cushioning of the grass

on the walk out to fill her birdfeeders,

and part of me thinks she remembered what walking felt like in her feet

and could conjure that feeling,

because she was so mindful of it when she had circulation.

To her, to both of them, walking was a way to love another person,

so long as they were doing it with you.

Now I’m 42 and I walk everywhere I go out of necessity.

I walk to do my laundry and get groceries.

I walk to work

and walk when I go out to eat

or want to blow ten bucks I don’t have.

And while I don’t have a friend to walk with,

people leave and things change,

I still imagine my grandparents beside me.

Sometimes even, the birds seem more like part of my community,

and human beings seem like untouchable dreams flitting through the trees,

and I’m a human being so that doesn’t make any sense.

A hawk will swoop in and land on a lamppost

and I’ll think it’s just coming down to say hi to me, the bipedal raptor,

when it probably just wants one of the sparrows in the forsythia.

Walking it seems isn’t really what I’m after here anyway,

not as much as I’m after a familiar ritual

that through the memories of those I’ve loved,

allows me to reconnect with a sense of interconnectedness

I didn’t know I was,

something that makes everyday life and death feel more eternal.

In just a few moments I’ll walk out this door

and be back with my family again,

back to being a child

and running through the parking garages, alleys and streets,

hot dog sticking out of my mouth, bun and all,

not a care in the world except for being free,

no thought of a future in sight,

every footstep, every flap, flap the woods coming back to me.

If only I could just figure out how to feel hugged and kept by that memory,

I’d never have to die.

But that’s what people tell themselves when they have.

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