“Barrow” by Robin Wyatt Dunn

The darkness should be the first clue, like it was not just a memory but an encounter, both in past and present: of the future. Or some thing who remembers me from some place I’ve been, wrapped beneath the vessel of the earth. I visited the barrow and then I visited this other part of the thing: a curative movement forwards, like a shaft of darkness:

These things we do. The part of the barrow I remember is black and red, wrapped up above me like a piece of the great sky, except a hidden sky, down below the earth. Did my ancestors encounter the gods this way? Like bothersome electrical currents, stuck into the body? The divine presence as a form of electrocution.

It would be a mistake to see the thing as an enemy—scary as it is, like a great black eye. Nor is it entirely some aspect of myself. Of course it is not a friend. Just some curious god, with his shaved face and lingering look, down over the black falls. When I was younger I would have wanted to go with him; now I know it could be dangerous.

Instead I can slip back into the part of the world I am in, here in winter, succored by the cranky rain and long dripping dark of the north and sea.

If I could remember how to do it: or if I could remember how to not do it . . . well. Some things have an energy all their own. If I should go deeper into the barrow, like the boy down the stairs, I will have to remember. Not the thing I am afraid of: I think I can get by without that. But the way it makes me feel. Like a small fish dumped into the deepest ocean, regarding the eye of something much larger than a whale.

That I could be something is perfectly obvious: what is less obvious is what sort. The dun part of the hill carried into the music of the world, like a baby under her mother’s arm, the storm coming slow and wet towards the grass:

“Is it you I saw?” this woman standing in the past on the grass (already in danger for my writing of her). No, let us say it wasn’t her. Let us keep her safe in the dark too, as we go deeper.

– –

Let us say that I saw it coming: some great freight train bearing down on my body, on my life, a terrible vengeance from quarters unseen and unimagined for which I was generally unprepared but nevertheless was able to perceive before the event.

The inky blackness of the way over and though the dark, whose reaches stretch deep into the earth and to those reaches below it. The way a starling can feel the wind, or a fruit the coming rain, I felt the coming dark.

He who sets sets me, like a stepping stone into a pool.

Below the barrow in the earth the ancestors are sleeping, like a many-tongued serpent, dragon child of the heavens, a nameless wanderer come to sun in the dark stretches of English countryside, to found the day and the hour, or merely the reason, for the undoing of some great event.

Undo the great event with me, and come down below the shadow of the earth, down below the names and valleys and cares of the surface of the world, down beneath the sun and towards the thing that I must find:

The bright and brilliant gem without sight. The shimmering and true sound of earth, as she cries out into the night.

– –

The night in all her colors should be my friend—and is—so why is it that she stabs me in the dark inside my place I’ve chosen?


Robin Wyatt Dunn was born in Wyoming in 1979. He is a graduate student in creative writing at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. You can read more of his work at robindunn.com.

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