strong medicine

New Orleans, photograph by Alisha Sommer

New Orleans, photograph by Alisha Sommer

it comes in so many arrangements, substances and services, forceful and titrate. and some of it is what you would except, the way i have a pill i can swallow when the migraine comes crushing into temple and back of skull. and some of it is not the customary kind, how what we need is just what we need even if it makes no sense to the doctor or the mind bent toward categories of good and bad. some of it is not what i would have ever imagined even as i’ve learned not to argue at its invitation but rather walk all the way in.  
all of it is medicine. strong, strong medicine.

lately, i’ve needed medicine in its many forms.
so i open my mouth and my heart, my notebook and my hip joints, and say yes, thank you, bitter and sweet.

“my medicine”

  1. heat.

  2. books. words. how i eat them like food, chewing on ideas, swallowing sentences. how language has a taste. how i think sometimes if i opened my mouth, ink would spill out, slip from tongue and tumble onto page.

  3. thrashing. wrestling with roots and wings. making knots of arms and ropes and mad insistent that the mask give way to unarmored skin, and the skin to speak and finally be believed.

  4. i once lay on a table, where he was shaking rattles around me and then unified the connective tissue between muscle and tendon and bone.  afterward, he told me to drink lots of water and told me i needed to pray to my ancestors.  place something on alter, and sit there, and talk to them, he said. and i said you don’t know them. and he said, that is why.

  5. dance. it speaks all the tongues.  how it is grief and it is joy, ecstatic and simple and sublime. the curve of motion and the feet finding ground, and the way music comes and takes over, moving down low into the body and a shimmy that rounds its way out. without it, i am anemic and my body and personhood begin to shrink and concave. dancing is my medicine which is also my religion.

  6. voodoo.
  7. making something. not complaining. not critiquing. not finding fault with what she is doing over there, or becoming enmeshed with carelessness masquerading as free spiritedness. simply taking all that energy and using it to make something: a book, a belief system, a soufflé, a mapped wall, a life, a train to climb upon, falling asleep to the sound of her breath and the clclclclclclc as is sparks against tracks and so you could finally dream again.
  8. plants. and sometimes writing things down. and sometimes laying on the hard floor, reminding yourself that you are here. and sometimes joy.

  9. poison is my medicine too. not as a form of study, but a lived in real time way of being in the world. not as something i can speak of for anyone else. personal and private and deep, deep trust for the psyche. maybe it comes from such a profound trauma history, but i know that to heal that kind of horror often times requires the dark. which can be frightening but powerful. i have found illness and grief to be the same. it looks like destruction, and death, to take in poison. but that's because it is death. we sometimes need to be with what is dying. we just don't like to see it in this culture. 

    and so yes, poison is much of my medicine. which also comes  from not experiencing anything in this life and world as forbidden. all of it is mine, if i need and choose. poison. and sometimes marshmallows too. rough love. and burning cancer out and cutting my own skin. orchids too. the cigarettes and television and a need to travel and expensive sheets and divorce. blackberries and snake skin and the capacity to kill and swimming in lake water. it's all medicine. as is the hellebore that sits above a stack of notes and sea coral.

  10. the honest moments. please hold me. please stay. i am scared. i don’t know. i need to leave.  can i kiss you? no really, i’m so so afraid. i love you.

  11. cherry popsicles, cold ice in the mouth and salvation on the throat. they are medicine for frustration too. and heartache. and the grasp of memory that only moves further away.

  12. mexico. for as long as i can return, for as long as she will have me. driving through the jungle, and the the woman you love sitting next to you, the shaking of wild terrain and cursing at the wonder of it all. and how in that moment, my whole life was clear, and was the sweet slot of the great Mystery. swimming in a cave filled with bats, calcium so thick it lingers on your skin long after, and the sound and beating of them, while my body is submerged, is the meaning of the word holy to me. finding a shrine to our lady, in the middle of nowhere, abandoned, but still, even here the heart makes alters and cast our offerings.
    you can never be the same again, after this, after these things. and you wouldn't want to. because you didn't just arrive; you returned. the knowing, so complete, that this is where i belong, in every sense of things. my path is mine, and it is my medicine. in all it's evolutions and undoing, at home in my life's work, baptized by love, again and again and again.
  13. arnica. tilia. chicalote. doradilla. cacao.

  14. flying.

  15. desire itself is medicine. the feelings of want. the way they open something you thought had been altogether lost. the way they make a thing worth it, and you’re exhausted but on fire, because the want is enough to sustain. the way they crack all the vases and the water spills out everywhere and the pollen from flowers is now clinging to your hands.

  16. candles lit. the quiet. holding in the light.

  17. “Nothing is absolute. Everything changes, everything moves, everything revolves, everything flies and goes away.”  - Friday Kahlo

    the leaving. the letting go. it feels so sad and thick, like a throbbing muscle and a pulpy voice of relentless want.  it feels like i’m clutching, like i’m pounding fists through doors. it feels like i’m in that moment, when i see the whole of my life, and the way everything is forever changing and so in some ways always leaving. and i’m afraid. i’m afraid of letting go in the way that would make me able to love more.  to let go so as to be in the completeness of the yes and the please come home to me and the this, here, you, is what i want and so it takes a letting go, to be able to open that much, to be wholly intact and fully in presence, for a moment that will never come again. the hurt is the fear of letting go. the medicine is just letting go.
  18. swimming. in ocean water, salt on skin and hair and lips. in the quarry where i think it is possible that my first true stories came and found me. what jung would call the shadow. reconciling oneself to the reality, savage and sweet. just put your head under water, and swim.

  19. resistance. how even fighting the medicine, the protest, sometimes becomes the medicine.

  20. truth. telling it. speaking it. being afraid and unafraid, trembling or terribly relieved. giving voice to the truth is a kind of freedom, and that freedom is a kind of love.

  21. integrity.

  22. stretches and exercises i’ve been given, to do twice a day eveyr day, these diagrams on a piece of paper as i seek stability for bones that do not know i am only thirty-eight because the cancer set a different kind of timer inside my body and now we’re at odds and so yes, i move. and it is medicine.

  23. tezmecal. drums banging loudly. candles lit at her alter.

  24. being in the process. believing her. protection beads.

  25. i make my own medicine, forged from the unwanted and the welcomed, the movement of my hips  and the scar that runs up my back. tears are the medicine, the way they came in the collapse, and how they just kept coming, a cry that felt like it had no particular origin and yet was somehow for everything, all the things. the grief is the medicine.  the aloneness is the medicine, and the feeling it, and finding what it means, to be sovereign and stand in the gaps where the terror and the light shatter all the lines. the showing up is the medicine. the snow is the medicine, how it’s like watching a silent film, how you keep staring out the window and seems like it should make sound except there is none. the silence itself is the medicine. so is steam, and the open lungs in the sauna and the antlers at the edge of the woods. so are donuts, and saying i’m sorry for the thing you did that hurt even as you will also never again apologize for your existence or your life. so is being here, all the way, the way all things can be medicine.  because being present for your own self and with your life, entering into it rather than leaving it. this is the medicine.  and it is mine.