Journeys, A Long Poem

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the first time
i went,
i leaned back in the snow lodge
(though it was in a jungle),
and left the vessel.

i flew
languorously through the air,
observing and touching
thick vines,
towering trees.
in a clearing
by a lake,
an animal
came to me
but could not decide
what she was
meant to be.

she shifted,
shimmering, flickering
with energy–
through various canine forms–
fox, coyote, wolf, dog,
with the spiral black horns
of a kudu
on her head.
she told me,
bear down
into the ground
and run.

we ran together.

the plant that spoke to me
was tall and shivery,
with dark purple
bell-shaped blooms
that had twisted points,
like the flowers of jimson weed,
and thin grasping gnarled
roots like hemp string
and it said,
root down.

the shaman
wore a headband
like a navajo
and said nothing
but his face was my grandfather’s face.
my breathing changed,
emotion broke
and i realized my grandfather
stood for
all grandfathers.

the second time
also began in the snow lodge
in front of a snapping fire
over which the shaman brewed tea.
i sat crosslegged
in the powdery dirt.
the beads of my anklet pressed
into my skin.
i drank tea
and again left
the vessel.

she waited in the clearing,
sandyred coyote,
jaws gaping very wide,
tongue lolling.
laughing.
and only looked at me indirectly.
the sun was warm gold
on her coat
and she said,
make your heart strong.
she turned her face into the breeze.

she followed me
in fits and starts,
in and out of trees,
brush, sun, shade
watching.

the plant that spoke to me
soared far above my head
and i knew his name:
old baldy, old cypress.
i put my palms
against his shaggy bark,
felt the powerful surge of life.
unable
to contain myself, i threw
my arms around
his trunk
and lay my face
against him.

he said,
the wind and the rain
surround me,
but don’t change me.
let your emotion be
the wind through your branches,
and thought the rain
that runs down your trunk.

i didn’t
know this shaman
with dark eyes,
younger than the grandfather-shaman.
he put his hands around mine
and then each of his hands
on my shoulders
and put a multi-color
cloak around my neck.

the third time
began
in a jungle hut
as per instructions,
an open-air construction
made of  wooden poles,
dry rasping leaves
and cool breezes
but i was looking at
the wall of the snow lodge
just the same.
moon, stairs, fire, blanket, all.
place of power.

i went into the forest
green with the end of summer
and sort of hazy
with the beaten gold
of leaves and sun
and powdery dust–
an aspen forest,
i think.
white trunks.

the animal again shifted shape
and i felt a little panicked–
maybe none would come,
but i should have known that
would be okay.
a blur,
maybe a rabbit or a rodent,
i couldn’t yet tell.
but then i saw his head,
so perfect and streamlined
against the brush.
an elk, or a reindeer,
massive and antlered.

he–
or maybe she;
female reindeer
have antlers, too–
told me nothing.
i watched him
and eventually understood
his message
of great calm,
of grace,
of being in perfect
tune with his environment.

i felt at one
with the forest.
i breathed,
it breathed.
we all breathed
as one.

the plant i found
was fragile,
a bright thin green
vine
with heart-shaped leaves
growing up
round
an aspen trunk.
it showed me
stillness
and
smallness.

the shaman was old,
wrinkles radiating
from faded watery blue eyes,
his fair skin like
crumpled rice paper
or linen.

i looked into his eyes.
i was grateful.

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