The Jam Jar Forest
by Chris Barkley | November 11, 2021
we went looking for the Jam Jar Forest, with memories in jars – shutting the lids tightly, so they wouldn’t leak on the way. we searched the night horizon for silver branches craning upwards in a moonlight photosynthesis. i said, listen, for the singing of a finger on a wine glass rim. follow it, we’ll find the Jam Jar Forest.
when we reached the forest’s edge we saw children, tethering a tyre swing to a crook-backed outlier. they watched us like wary magpies. as we passed by, i thought how little had changed; you and i came here before, swung on the branches of the border trees, pressed our hands to the smooth bark, twined our palm lines with these trees.
we wandered into the Jam Jar Forest and found a glade. we buried our memories like acorns, stood together, the moment forming about us like a pot-bound root. you rested your head on my shoulder, said you were relieved. as we cleaned the dirt from our hands, two wanderers passed. one hung his head. the other was crying, cradling her jar as if it were a child.
we waited in the dark for our saplings to spread their young leaves. you grew restless, walked around the glade and sang: in the gloaming, oh, my darling, when the lights are dim and low, and the quiet shadows falling, softly come and softly go. Then the saplings rose with leaves like pale moth wings. we listened, growing closer, as they sang their song in the wake of yours. their voices were like wind over frozen water.
when they had drunk their fill of moonlight, they sighed, and stopped growing. mine looked like a toothpick, yours, a rusty nail. you asked if i wanted to know your memory. seeing how you shivered, white-knuckled, i shook my head.
years later the glass song returned. it came before sleep or just after waking, like tinnitus. often we’d rise in the night, claustrophobia folding slender fingers about us, dread clinging to our bodies like a rime of sweat. when we finally found our way there again, we were too late.
they cut down the Jam Jar Forest to use the land for cattle ranching, but the cows wasted, their bones rising in their hides like bobbing flotsam, their eyes roving dream-drunk and wild. in the night they would gather and moo at the moon.
they cut down the Jam Jar Forest to use the wood for building, but the wood wouldn’t listen to the saw and the nail. it buckled and bucked and formed its own shapes: songbirds, dragons and snail-shells.
so they dug up the jam jars and smashed them.
the sound of a shattered memory lasts for days. it is the scream of brittle bark splitting, of sinews snapping. i heard your memory fade, and you heard mine. we held each other as they went. we sat in silence and searched, among our fragments, for what we lost.
walk with me, again, to the Jam Jar Forest and we’ll plant memories of what it was.
You and I
will start again.
and again, if we have to. █
Words by Chris Barkley. Art by Millie Dean-Lewis