Archived: Cairns by James Byrd

I awoke as I now know myself among the ash trees by a shallow pond, their branches spread wide. After taking a drink from the clear water I grabbed the smooth stones by the bank and considered how I may have found myself swaddled by the ashes’ shade. I pile the stones, starting from the largest and finishing with the smallest. I made a cairn. By what circumstances someone may find these stones? Will they wake on the same shore, or will they wander onto it? Either and any way would mean a good respite. Something we can share.

Energized, I walked into the grove. I followed the side that the moss grew on the rocks and stones. Then the ash trees stopped at the foot of a hill; I looked to it’s head and saw branches of different trees peeking over, jagged like lightning striking the sky. Passing the threshold, I looked up past the foreboding branches. It was the first time I had seen the sky unobscured by the ash trees; their once comforting shade now felt oppressive. I sat and took in the altering of the sky. Slow and subtle movement led to grand and expansive changes. 

The sky was now shades of amber. I strode forward toward the hill knowing that there was more to see. With bent knees my pace began to slow; each time I looked up to the peak it was farther and farther away. So I found solace in each moment I lifted my foot and pride each time it met the ground. I started to crawl, jabbing my knees against sharp rocks. My palms began to bleed. I learned pain, but what was driving me forward was the prospect of new sights. Even these rocks were different from the ones I knew before, matte and sharp. Upon making it to the precipice, I collapsed. 

I looked up to the branches greeting my descent. The loose ground began to give. I left all my strength behind me. All I could do was coil up into a ball as I began to roll. Crackling and snapping resonated through my body. I could no longer hold myself together. I splayed out, dragging, the sharp rocks tearing into me as I came to a stop. I lay my head askew to the sky. I saw the dots gazing onto me, bystanders of the night.

I woke with only the clarity a headache could bring. It was still night, whether the same one or the next I had no clue. I gathered some stones jagged and shining, and thought of what I discovered. This time I put the smallest stone in the center. It took time to balance, but I too would take time to stand. I left with sorrow for the ones who would find these stones. As they are only to be found at the bottom of that hill. May they at least find company in the cairn left there.

I paid no mind to the whispers of faces in the bark or the glaring of the blinking stars. If I stopped to rest their whispers may be heard as reason. If I looked to the sky they might have swallowed me whole. The fear I felt was on the heels of my feet. I used the trees to prop myself as I moved, each of them leaving me with something said. Crawling between each, I found a root sticking up. I pulled it out to use as a cane. I stumbled through the night, no mind to where I was headed. 

I reached a field filled with haze and grass up to my hips. It wove around me as I passed through, unlike the brush that tripped me in the woods. In the distance I saw a great willow tree. As I closed in, the branches seemed to have started encompassing the yellow sky. I laid down under the uplifted tree; the roots dug in the soil in protest with gnashes found in its bark. I saw glimmers of metal in the soil and the blade of a shovel wedged in its root. I made one last cairn with bits of bronze and stone. Once I finished, I laid against the trunk, hoping the voyager after me continued for others as lost. Brief understandings of what we share, though our stones differ. I look to the branches as they encompass what I knew to be me.