an angel carved from stone. A pair of wings tilted towards the sky, head bowed to listen. She guards a rock with faded letters at her feet. One hand rests open on her chest while the other clutches a rose. Spray paint has stained her halo red. Sun etches the path with shadow, elongates her body and severs her arm at the elbow.
The shade flickers when figures in black pass. Men carry shovels. Women carry lilacs. You carry your uncle in a box. His casket grinds into your right shoulder, its brass handles cold on your temple. Grains in the wood blur with each step.
Dirt fall disrupts the stillness. Metal grates against tiny stones every time the shovel pierces, drowning the pastor’s voice. When he waves his cross, you strike the ground with more force. A worm bursts when it catches on the shovel’s edge. Entrails fuse with mud while sweat drips and vanishes into the soil, an ache in your forearm throbs. The heap swells. Once you’ve buried this box, you will carry nothing but a realization. This cemetery is for the living: a place to hold when you should let go.
A tawny bird settles on a willow bough where its gaze meets yours, eyes black and resolute. On one foot, the bird sways. Cotton floats in the breeze around the two of you like a summer snow. A wisp lands on your wrist fragile and brief. Before you can touch it, the cotton takes flight and disappears into the sky. After a moment, the bird also departs.
All that remains is a dark mound. Ants scurry in and out of the fresh earth. Two clover leafs are chiselled on the monument above his name. Dates mark only the start and end, his years between reduced to a dash—a subtraction. Can angels hear the echo of a life hushed by gravestone?
Wet dirt softens the fall when you drop to your knees. White gloves turn black as you dig, teeth rattle and goose bumps emerge. Mud soars, nails scrape, come on just a little deeper. He can’t breathe. You can’t breathe. Someone hauls you to your feet.
Hearts bloat, then purge.
a quiet street in Ireland. Snow plummets towards cobblestone and fades into passing headlights. An icicle glimmers in the beam of a lamppost, its serrated point above the bench where you sit. Hairs on your neck stiffen when a snowflake melts, drips down your spine and a shiver wracks your body. In the square, a red bulb on the Christmas tree flickers. With a pop out of place in the stillness, the light dissolves to black.
Five children round the corner and prowl the sidewalk with cheeks red from cold. One hefts a stick over his left shoulder and another drags a sled. The last boy kicks a stone while he walks and when a wren chatters from a stop sign, he swipes the rock from the ground. His movements are so fast that you blink only once before the boys lunge.
Now imagine five children who circle a bloodied stone and a wren. One child scoops the wren into his hand. Brown feathers merge into golden wings and two white lines streak its eyes. Frantic pupils dart back and forth, roll to show white. Screeches escape through its beak while it struggles in the boy’s palm. After a sharp peck, the boy tightens his grip and the bird falls silent.
With his thumb pressed to its chest, the boy stuffs the bird into a shoebox and passes it around the circle. Each child shakes the box, a holiday present guessing game. The bird’s body slides and bashes against cardboard walls with muffled cries. Strung lights and chimney smoke douse the children in a shadowy haze. Their teeth gleam, laughter echoes. Why haven’t you stopped them?
The last boy raises the package over his head and slams it to the ground. They open the lid and tie the bird to a holly wreath with wings spread wide, neck tilted. Its head lolls upon three red berries. One child tosses you the bloody stone before they carry the bird away, chanting and singing through red-glowing streets.
The wren the wren the king of all birds, give us a stone to bury the wren.
a frosted moorland. Brittle wheat towers above, forward, and back like a skeletal sea. You weave through the stalks, rock clenched in hand. Grasses bend in the wind and brush against your thighs. Clouds puff from your cracked lips and sweat trickles in the corner of your mouth. When you break free of the field, a beach spreads across the land where ocean waves crash under a blanket of snow-riddled clouds.
A wren perches on a signpost that cautions visitors of rough tides ahead. Its plume is ruffled by sanded gusts and your hold tightens on the stone, but before you can launch it, the wren flies to a lighthouse at the water’s edge.
You stand at the base of the lighthouse. Its shadow buries you in darkness. Hoarfrost crystalizes around the tower and spirals towards the light. The wren glides to the balcony where your uncle teeters on the railing. He faces the water with his palms angled to the sky. Red lines spider across his eyes, irises silvery under the beacon. Blink. He now sits with a little girl who talks to him about things you wish you could remember. Blink. He leaps into the silver blend of sea and sky. Blink. Both figures are gone. The wren remains.
At the top, you rush onto the balcony. A blizzard descends, obscures the distance. Snowflakes seep through your white knuckles to melt on the stone while air numbs your lungs, paralyzes your feet. Will you forget the way he smelled? Will you remember the weight of his arm draped over your shoulder when you sat on this very balcony together? The wren calls from above, but you have lost sight of it in the snow.
Inside, a bulb rotates in a glass box, wind rattle hushed by its creak. The rotating light dims and blinds too bright, too fast. Closed fist, nails to palm, you strike the bulb with the stone. Over and over and over again. Jagged shards soar, distorts the white light red.
The bulb no longer revolves. You sink to the floor.
Photo source: The Wren by Phil McIver