People Still Get Polio

Brown rock formation under white and blue cloudy sky

I discover a skinny desert path on my first morning walk in the Arizona neighborhood. The trail’s opening looks menacing in that brutal desert way, but further up the hill I see a cactus covered in enormous yellow flowers like something out of a sci-fi movie. I want to smell those strange blooms and I also want something beautiful to report when my mother calls.

A surprising variety of cacti wait to stab me as I step onto the dusty path. I imagine a duo of hungry rattlesnakes hiding in the fragrant creosote bush. Something moves to my left and it’s fast enough to leave me wondering. I pause for a moment.

The long history of my new town includes old-timey gunfights and brothels and gamblers but that didn’t stop me from buying the little stucco house. Might have tipped the scales, to be honest. Live among the ghosts of a time when just getting through the day was a challenge? Yes, please. I’ll pitch my tent on that patch of earth. People standing right here in this desert have survived outlaws and disease and slithery creatures and my husband.

It’s the things that you can’t see that’ll kill you, my mother warned. She was especially worried about my new home. There’s cancer in the air. People still get polio. I turn my face to the sun and wonder about UV rays. My husband, ex-husband, told me I was too delicate for desert life and I think my mother agrees. If things get too hard for you, come home.

But this is my home now. I’m walking a new path with the bodies of wild settlers beneath my feet. I am inspired by those who came to this dangerous place to carve out a life. People who were forced to become the bravest version of themselves in the desert because they had no other fucking choice.

Wide-winged hawks circle above me, daring me to continue my walk. I hold my breath and move past another cluster of creosote. I am relieved when a snake doesn’t slither out to strike me, but also a tiny bit offended. There’s a decent amount of flesh near my ankles now as my diet this year has been heavy in cheese and wine. I think I’d be damned delicious, really, if one of them were to choose me for a snack.


By Windy Lynn Harris

Windy Lynn Harris writes personal essays, short stories, flash, nonfiction, and novels from her desk in sunny Phoenix, Arizona. Her work has been published in places like The Literary Review, 34th Parallel, Pithead Chapel, The Sunlight Press, Literary Mama, Sasee, and Chahoots, and many other journals.