"new orleans: paths of poison and mystery of medicine"
- what was it like? they want know. they are asking about my recent trip. about new orleans. about what we saw and soaked into ourselves, what we wrote and offered out, tasted and came to know. they are talking about exploration and adventure. they are talking about stories, snapshots, the five minute version. and really, there are all these things that happened, beginning before i ever left and still being lived out since my return. there are all these things, and i don’t know their words yet. but i know they are my language.
- when you come to her grave in the cemetery there, you can ask for help and make some kind of offering. but first, three knocks on the grave. and now that’s how it feels, every time i sit down to write. that I’m knocking three times on the gate to the other side, asking for permission.
- what was it like? there was humidity and heat, the way i can breathe easier there in the swelter. there was low in the body dancing and music that filled even the spaces between things. there were candles and protection beads, walking and walking, sitting in a circle and the glow of café du monde late at night, coffee and the powdered sugar that leaves traces on lips for a long time after leaving. there were fine lines, nearly imperceptible, between breaking and mending, this side and that, inside and out.
- i bought an antique gold hearted poison ring. i don’t even know why. i saw them in the window and i wanted it. so it went from glass case to my left ring finger, and i thought, this is the beginning of everything that comes after.
- what is poison? what is medicine? do they meet and intersect sometimes, like lines etched into the palm of the hand?
- i remember when I was a child, summers with five siblings, how every year at least one of us became horribly sick, strep throat or ear infections and the flu, usually while camping in hot tents or driving hours in the station wagon. i remember the summer i was so sick i could barely move, lying on the floor, head pressed into hard floor and scratchy carpet, staring out the screen door. that was the year i took antibiotics. i remember laying there listening to my mom talk to my dad, about going to the pharmacy to fill the prescription. “liquid gold” she called it. i thought then that she was referring to its magical medicinal properties, and it wasn't until many years later it even occurred to me that she was speaking of its price tag. liquid gold. take this and be better. there are instructions and this hard plastic spoon that comes attached. you have to take it twice a day, until it is gone, even once you start feeling better. do you hear me, you have to take the whole thing. or you will get sick again. different than the baby aspirin, how good they tasted, like chalky orange smarties, but don’t you dare take the whole bottle, because it will poison you. medicine made no sense to me as a child. it always felt like the popsicles were the true cure.
- when undergoing treatments for certain kinds of illness, of both mind and body, you sometimes put toxic things in your mouth and veins, or cut through skin and remove whole parts of you. is this violence or the healer or both?
- what are you willing to do to get well? she asked me. i was twenty-one years old and sitting in her tiny office with abstract paintings in bright colors, as if to distract from the white coat she wore, and the dirty floors. i remember that it was close to el tracks, downtown, and she would stop mid-sentence to let it pass, before continuing to speak. what are you willing to do to get well? i did not know then. it turns out, the answer was everything. and it was worth it.
- poison. which can be weapon. can be anti-venom. can be medicine.
- things are not always so clear, when looking from the outside, making commentary on other’s life and choices. there are things i have done that i am fully aware appeared to others as a girl spinning out of control, hell bent on self-destruction. and i am not saying that it was risk free or lovely, that it was benign and nothing to be concerned about. but it was how i healed myself. i was saving my own life, in the ways i knew how. it was my path, poison coming to purge things that are ready to go, like treating like, strong medicine that takes your bones and sings over them and puts you back together, breathes you back to life.
- besides my homes of chicago and mexico, new orleans is the only place i’ve ever been where I felt like i could truly make a life and home, return to after leaving for all the other places in my traveling and wandering. i’ve heard of places that kick you out, that if you try to go and live there, and you don’t belong, the land will reject you. almost like the body purging poison. does it work the other way too, land claiming you as belonging, even though you know you will always be most at home in the movement from here to there, the spaces between?
- maybe this is a doorway then, between the in-between? gatekeeper. that is what she told me, the voodoo priestess who pointed to the key on my arm. who stood me up and wrapped me in serpent. who kept telling me to swallow it down, to push the life down, so it would root itself all the way through me and into the ground. who said, “you have been chosen. come home to it.” and i remembered then, what it took for me to get well, and what was required to no longer run from what had always been here and whole. to do that kind of work, births you into something that makes you walker between worlds, and so yes, there you are now, some kind of gatekeeper.
- some people have grand initiations into magic or religious rites. i have studied them and even participated at times, loved them for their symbolism and ways of knowing. but they have never been fully mine, a thing i seek out. maybe this is because it has been life itself that initiates me, births me. the kind of initiation that takes everything from you and gives you back yourself. that doesn't give a shit about your cherished beliefs and need for prescribed order, that turns you upside down, and it is here you realize you've been set right. and while you thought that maybe it was all for destruction, you look back later and see it so clearly, how you were initiated into what could only be called joy, into the living, the simple acts of cutting open a watermelon and eating whole pieces of it with your bare hands, the unrelenting movements towards loving.
- voodoo is a religion of adaptation, he said. and it was like something stopping me in my tracks. this. oh yes, this. the way of survival, a capacity to not resist movement but shapeshift and adapt to change. this. to be the hidden obvious, knowing your true nature and not needing to show it off or insist upon its validation. it is a kind of trust, i think. to use what is here, right here in front of you, in the practice of one’s faith or magic or will to live. even if that is poison. even if that is medicine. even if that is bottled water and cigar smoke, torn jeans and serpent, questions with evolving answers and a matchbook from a restaurant that closed fourteen years ago.
- why do you think people came here he asked me? here was new orleans. here was this bar and absinthe. here was now. because we want a place to lose and find ourselves at the same time, i said.
- there was that moment, when my the path was uncrossed. when the clearing was made. when i understood this was my life, in its poison and medicine, and i swallowed whole and let it love me completely. that is what happened.
i am making my path, with everything that is my life. nothing is the way i imagined it would be. what a relief to be delivered from my own good intentions. how heartbreaking. how wonderful.
17. amor fati.