Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

I'm having all these plant experiences that I'm finding trouble articulating.

I think it's because I feel flooded with them. Like every time I step into some place of nature, there are all these wild beings tugging at my heart, calling to my feet, entrancing my eyes.

For instance, thistle. It is hella prickly. It's poky. It's sticky not like glue but sticky like it'll stick you like a thorn. But when I get stuck by thistle, the feeling isn't localized to the place it sticks me, it's more of this tingling flush that runs across the entirety of my whole skin. A flashing bash of goosebumps. Like shiver me timbers! Shake me down. Wake me up! And then it's gone.

It's in the name. Thistle. It just momentarily, so sweetly, stings.

Kind of like stinging nettle. With nettle, though, the sting is incredibly localized to the area the plant rubs the skin. There's this constant feel like a bee unleashing a small fury. Unlike thistle again, the stinging nettle sticks around. The acute pain of it dissipates after a few minutes, but a few hours later, if it stang you on the fingertips, and you grab a cool glass of ice, there's that biting reminder of picking up nettle by the stem or leaf contacting skin stinging stanging stung.

The first time I experienced nettle, I went all in. We were bagging it up for half an hour. Granted, it had been in a refrigerator for awhile, so the sting wasn't as fresh as picked right off the ground. At first, I liked it. It woke my hands up with a harsh bristle. And we continued to grab a bunch and bag it, grab a bunch and bag it, grab a bunch and bag it. One after the other. Monotonous, lively stinging, and the workday continued on, we accomplished other tasks, and I forgot about it. The sting flew off. But to my great chagrin, at the end of the day, I pulled out my phone, and as I'm checking messages and perusing social media, my hands start burning a hellfire blaze. I tried to ignore it, but it just welled up and took me over. I put on chamomile and lavender oils. I breathed deep breaths, deep deep breaths. I muttered and cursed. I walked around mad as hell like an inflamed jack ass spewing steam from my ears bursting at the fxcking seams. What in the grand scheme of hell was I thinking? But then it occurred to me, What if I bathed in it? What if it lit up my whole body? It must be some temporary supernatural superpower. Like selling your soul to the devil. To embody the flesh so deeply you feel the pain of plants. But how would I channel it if ever I decided to do it? Where would it go? I imagined the shamans who eat mushrooms, who dance to drumming, who sing their icaros, who dispense powerful prayerful medicines to the sick and ailing, I imagined the ones who eat hot peppers so hot it triggers them into an altered state of consciousness, and there must be someone throughout the history of time who dug so foolishly deep they wound up with a body invigorated lit up driven mad stinging stanging sting stang stung stooged wielding as a ceremonial tool the oft avoided thrashing fire skin of flaming nettle.

I'm reminded of the monk who poured gasoline on his body and meditated into a fiery death in protest of the Vietnam War.

Side not: Where are all the disciplined radicals willing to risk life and limb?

They must be buried deeply within our own skin, perhaps too suppressed, paralyzed, zombified, fascistically dead, too diluted by the drugs of modern society to find expression, the fear of leaving status quodom keeping a strangled chokehold.

Who knows?

We’re not terribly wild anymore. But still, the wild urge is locked away like the ancestors waiting to be honored. Like the plants screaming out to be respected and stewarded.

You ever get wrapped up in Japanese hops? The vines cling to the skin like cleavers cling to the clothing. They leave marks like an animal clawing at your arm. The cuts don’t run all too deep, but they sure make an impression on the body’s memory.

I'm thankful, for one, I've never experienced the poison kiss of ivy. A few close people in my life have been susceptible, especially recently, and as of now I can only experience the second-hand ferocity of painful itching the uncontrolled desire to scratch and rip away the skin to come crawling out shedding layers like a snake growing wings a feathered serpent flying from the burden & the beauty of being human.

It seems we are victims of our own material weight. We are trapped in matter. The slightest plant wreaking havoc on our fragile dermas. We are so unweathered in modern society.

To think, our protective layer is so thin.
To think, we construct judgments based on color.
To think, are we really all so shallow?

On the flip side, isn’t it a wonder we are blessed with the temple body in the first place? Is there not pleasure in being touched by a loved one? The way it flutters our insides and arouses heat across the skin. To embrace, push, and press. To want to know the body of another through the experience of our own embodiment.

Clearly, I feel that way about plants too.

My friend was telling me about magic mushrooms, how we ingest them for many reasons but especially because we long for a sense of blissed out interconnectivity, a pure flooding of awe and understanding, and how, really, it’s reciprocal, because the mushrooms want to experience the carnality of being human too.

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The Hidden Uprising of the Sacred Mother

When we cut through the noise, when we read between the headlines, we know the world is experiencing a radical transformation. There is a spirit that will not be shackled. The thing is, you have to consciously tap into it (or it will smack you in the face), because resilience is cultivated. It doesn’t just happen smoothly. It’s a practice.

I feel it when I walk down the street. It’s in the way people make eye contact & give a nod of the head. Maybe a word is said in passing, or a fist is held over the heart.

Being not depressed in the face of oppression is a courageous act of resistance.

It makes me especially happy when people collect together spontaneously. It makes me even happier because I see it happening more & more, from working in the garden to families hanging on their stoops to the swinging door of our house. People are joining together as if by a magnetism, a desire to lend support and be supported.

That’s why it was a great surprise to come home to a house full of people for the dark moon.

Throughout the day, I painted by myself, & rode my bike over the bridge in the evening. When I reached Philly, the bells of the St. Augustine Church banged & echoed a solemn, yet joyous tone. It felt lonely, like a precursor to a night of solitude, but how wonderful it was to arrive home to a house full of people.

We made dinner. We talked about plants, about the spirit of the earth, about protecting the land.

We started a metheglin to celebrate the new moon cycle. A metheglin is a mead infused with herbs. We added slippery elm, rose buds, and peppercorn. It’s already starting to bubble. The yeast is just chomping away at the honey. It’s so alive.

We started a couple tinctures too. Mugwort for one, which smells so potently vulgar, & echinacea root for the other. I let the plant material dry for a few days, then crushed it up with a wooden mortar & pestle. I love being so intimately involved with these medicines. It gives me a unitive feeling, a direct connection to the surrounding environment.

The more often I go to the garden, the more people I interact with. From neighbors to strangers to storeowners, people want to grow their own food too.

I think the deeper you go, the more relationships start forming, the more alchemy you start discovering. There’s metaphorical fire occurring just about everywhere. There are minute processes of change occurring every step of the way. Sometimes, just sometimes, you get clued in to the means of catalyzing these wondrously mysterious transmutations.

I keep finding ganoderma on oak trees. It’s really spawning a belief in the intricacy & grounded reality of magick.

I’m slowly learning the scientific names of plants & fungi too. I don’t know why, but I was uninterested in learning them at first, & now I find them wholly intriguing.

Red clover, for instance. The scientific name is Trifolium pratense, which translates roughly to- three leafed flower of the meadow. It’s so accurately descriptive & so accurately pretty. Getting to know the scientific names for plants is just another means of acutely getting to know their spirit. As plants grow roots in the mind, they take on a stronger life of their own.

This is a peculiarity of language that I find fascinating. There’s a hidden expandedness, an invisible unfurling; words contain worlds like seeds contain the blueprint for life.

There are nights I go to sleep and all I see are fields of foxtail & chicory & morning glory lightly dancing & swaying in the darkness of my closed eyes. And because I’ve been eating from the land, there are nights I can’t help but dance around with my own sway of wild presentness.

Life is better when it is nutrient dense. As is the body, so is the mind.

When I was in college, I took a class called Existentialism. The professor told us we were making a mistake by taking the class because we would lose a lot of friends. A lot of us laughed at the notion of it, thinking it was a novel prompt. But on the first day of class he wrote the word “journal” on the blackboard and asked us to shout out definitions. Someone recorded what we came up with, I think it totaled to 116 some odd number of meanings. The next class he talked about the word “they” and questioned, Who are “they”? Every time you use that word, ask yourself, “Who are they?” Really, truly, who is this group, this omnipotent, organized “they” we keep referencing? And class after class he just broke down language in such a way, it made me feel like I was having to rebuild my tongue one bud at a time. Communication became somewhat difficult, but also fresh & new. For a few years afterwards, I stopped using a dictionary to find the meaning of words and went straight to the origins. Was it Greek or Latin or Arabic? Did it come from German or Middle English? How was the word used back then? How did it evolve from its roots?

At the same time, I was doing research for a professor writing a book on the divine feminine. One little piece of information at a time slowly brought into view a hidden history. It gave me the sense that the practice of magic has never actually disappeared (despite years & years & years of persecution). It’s remained stirring in the shadows, deeply studied by the flickering light of a candle. And why wouldn’t it? We’re talking about the occult, after all.

Not only are there hidden histories arising from the crumbling ashes of our modern scrabble board of rapid communication, there are latent energies in the body just waiting to be jostled from their slumber.

There’s this really beautiful word that comes from Latin & it means “to bind back to the source.” Of course, there are a number of different translations, & it’s been corrupted over the centuries, so I won’t even mention it because it’s like saying the word God; it evokes so many varied feelings & potential arguments & misunderstandings. Regardless, I think binding back is important. & There are so many ways to reconnect.

Like gathering & digging in the earth.

Like making a tea from roots.

Like cooking & sharing a meal together.

Like conspiring… If you reach down far enough, it’s another way to describe simply breathing together.

How Uncouth: Reverence for the Dirt, the Goddess, a Wild Garden Salad

The rain came in waves. Like oceans of orgasm. Five or six of them. Wet and sweaty and drenched. I lost count.

I stood under a tiny structure. Usually a place of refuge from the sun, but in this case, a safe haven to keep dry from the rain. Or so I thought. Intermittently, the sun popped out amidst thick grey clouds, but those rays only served as a false flag the storm had passed. Every time I saw a bit of blue sky, I walked into the garden & continued weeding. I stayed out for the lighter rains, but for the torrential falls, I took cover. Either way, I wound up soaked.

Throughout the course of the storm, the winds were both chilled and hot, which caused shivers to raise up and roll across my skin. A thunder clap reached so far into me, it cracked my skeleton, and my nerves jumped out of my body. It caught me by such surprise, I laughed at my timidness in comparison to the omnipotence of nature. There were moments I questioned why the hell I would be outside amidst such a storm, but that quickly passed because it all made me feel quite alive & connected.

And then, when the storm finally did pass, I dug right into the dirt. The soil was so soft, the weeds came up with such ease.

Calling them weeds, though, does such a disservice to what is actually growing amidst the vegetables and covering the rest of the lot.

Mugwort reigns in these parts. That creeper of a plant with her silver undersides & risqué name. Artemisia vulgaris. That enchantress of dreams. I pull up mugwort for days. I pull up so many plants for days, there are moments I wonder why the hell I would pull up plant after plant after plant knowing they just keep coming back, but that quickly fades when I see pretty red clover and pluck the flowers to add to the collection in my pocket. I like taking them apart, separating the tiny flowers from the flower head and adding them to salads. The tiny tubular flowers nearly disappear amidst the larger green leaves, but regardless, they are packed with nutrients.

Off to one side of the garden, along a fence, grows a patch of melons. Before we planted the melons, morning glories grew there. They still do, and it’s apparent they don’t care for uninvited guests. So I’m pulling up what feels like hundreds & thousands of morning glory seedlings. Despite this, I like them. As the name indicates, you have to catch their flowers early. They grow mostly along the edges where they are free to roam and climb, like a witchy coven of vines and flowers just radically doing what they do.

There’s so much natural spontaneity.

I met one neighbor at the garden who is half Puerto Rican & half Hawaiian. I saw him before the start of the rainstorm. He said he likes to get wet. I laughed, I do too. We chatted briefly, but then it really started dumping buckets. He went home, and I took cover under the tiny structure.

After the rainstorm, he came back around, so we chatted some more. He rattled off so many stories about his kids, his wife, his life in the military, his upbringing, his grandparents, where he’s been, the police, the neighborhood, everything. He’s lived a full life.

He offered a blunt to share, but I don’t smoke all that much, so I said no. He said no I’m offering it as a gesture of peace like a peace pipe. He smiled. I smiled. I couldn’t say no to a peace pipe.

We walked over to a mulberry tree where he likes to sit, smoke, and reflect. I took one puff and passed it back to him, but he said it’s mild weed it’s not that heady shit that makes you sit there STONED it’s homegrown by a friend there’s no paranoia it just makes your eyes click makes you aware. So I took a few more puffs and we passed it back and forth a few times and I got a nice mellow stone.

I invited him into the garden, because wild edibles kept catching my eye so I darted back and forth showing him the flowers of this and the leaves of that & it sparked that urge to keep playing in the dirt.

To both our delight, he speaks three languages: Puerto Rican, Spanish, and English, so we traded words. I gave him some plant identification & names, and he gave me some Puerto Rican. I was feeling stony baloney and goofy and my memory bounds along like an elephant; but it was worthwhile to readjust my tongue and vocal chords and practice what he was throwing my way. He kept calling me a green man and was trying to figure out how to explain it all to his wife. Like, this white nigga in the garden, you won’t believe what he’s growing, you will love this shit. I tried to give him some herbs to take home to his wife, but he said he wanted to bring her so she could see and learn.

It really struck me how amazed he was at the plants. Like we were on a foreign planet. He imparted to me as well, a renewed sense of amazement. Like wow, look at that corn. The way it sprouts tassels. The way they blow in the wind and shake off pollen and fertilize the silk that grows from a lower portion of the stalk. Maiz. It’s bisexual & voila, the male tassel and female silk birth ears of corn.

It’s so complicated, yet so simple.

I tend to relate gardening to zen, especially when it comes to weeding. Weeding a garden is both active and challenging. There is a focus required to make sure you pull gently enough so you don’t snap the stem and firmly enough so the roots come up. There’s also a letting go involved because I know I’m not going to get all of them. It teaches me to be content with the silence of equilibrium.

Like certain thoughts that come up in the mind, weeds can make you mad as hell. There are so many of them. And they just keep coming. So it’s good practice to weed, simultaneously, the madness from your mind.

I often leave a number of weeds, because often, they aren’t weeds. Purslane and lambs quarter are good examples of this. They pop up on their own accord, and they taste great in salads.

It’s wild.

There are so many plants who just grow because that’s what they do. They don’t need your attention or care, yet they can add flavor and nutrients to your life. They also impart that wonderful spirit of growing wherever the fuck.

Like the dandelion who will sprout from the cracks of the sidewalk AND detox your liver.

Here, there’s something to be said about soil quality or lack there of, & potency & poison. We don’t want to just willynilly eat any old thing that looks green. Educate yourself. Talk with people who are willing to share knowledge.

Also, if you’ve taken prescription drugs your whole life, just trying to shift to a more natural diet might be a bit of a struggle, especially if those prescriptions are psych meds. If we look at the body like a culture, how hard is it for people of an ineffective, racist culture, how hard is it to let a dead horse die and subsequently grow into the future? It’s difficult. The body is similar; it’s not going to change over night. I imagine there are people who specialize in those kinds of transitions, because, needless to say, the body is an intricate webwork of biochemistry & a wily, ineffable spirit that is impossible to box up.

There’s also something to be said about fear, lack of trust, and lack of confidence. How many people would rather buy a neat little package they find in a store vs harvesting something growing wildly in their own backyard? I understand there is hesitance that has been built in; too many of us grew up being taught that soil is dirt and dirt is dirty and dirty is nasty, disgusting, and just plain bad. Well, in one way, shape, or form, it’s true: the sacred mother is bad as hell. She is more powerful than we give her credit for.

It doesn’t surprise me people are scared.

Mulberry trees scatter the outskirts of the lot. There are no gates to keep people out, only fences bordering two sides to denote other peoples’ properties. The place is overridden with mugwort, and on any given weekday, birds and random litter occupy the space.

It feels wild & gritty.

The Philly Socialists built the garden, an effort headed by an organizer from Colombia. Her name is Mara. There are five raised beds, a picnic table, a wooden archway, a large sign, a rain barrel, discarded tires, and a small, open-air roofed-over area.

Somehow Mara got into contact with Cesar and his family, who are from Mexico. They do Aztec dance-performances donning full regalia: loincloths, tribal face paint, medicine shakers, and headdresses made from feathers, feathers, feathers, and more feathers. One headdress even incorporates a stuffed deer head. It’s truly a sight to behold.

I was pleasantly surprised when I showed up at the garden and they were there to bless the grounds. Drums, whoops & yells, chanting, and conch shells resounded the air. They brought corn to plant as well, so I went back home to retrieve the extra vegetable plants at our house.

When I returned to the garden, Mara and I borrowed a truck to take a trip to Home Depot to pick up garden tools and extra soil.

It amazes me how fluid & trusting people can be. Here is a group of strangers coming together, more or less spontaneously, to accomplish a common goal. Namely, building up a garden. & Everyone’s sharing resources. Not only that (and this is kind of a separate tangent because I saw a couple folks at Home Depot), it amazes me how many friends I run into on a regular basis. I haven’t lived in this area for like 6 years, but it’s like I never left. A few weeks back, a friend was picking up food at an Indian place we were walking by, and he yelled from down the street, “Jozef Maguire, Philadelphia welcomes you back to the neighborhood!” It warmed my heart. & Granted, my dad lives in the area, and I have friends who throw art shows and poetry readings around town, so it’s not like I’ve been completely absent or on the other side of the world, but still, it’s heart warming & unexpected.

I guess this is community. I say it loosely, because that’s how it is. There are core groups who grind together & create more intimacy, but at the end of the day, there are so many people living in the city, and the loose connections that reoccur on the outer edges and slowly strengthen help to create the larger picture. The myth of a city is important. It gives everyone a story to connect to & explore.

The interesting thing about America is (and this is ever present in her cities), there are a variety of myths.

The next block over from the garden, a Puerto Rican festival was taking place. They were bumping music & the smell of BBQ drifted in the air. The whole atmosphere was one of celebration.

There was a PBS film-maker there too. He shot video. He’s been following Cesar around to document his life & work. Most recently, Cesar painted a mural dedicated to Pope Francis’s visit to Philly.

Cesar is a sturdy, squat, unassuming man originally from Mexico. He has long hair and a greying mustache & goatee. He expresses his appreciation & gratitude more often than most people I know. And he does so in such a way that it feels natural and humble. There’s no bravado involved.

It’s a good reminder.

After the dancing, we collectively planted the vegetables & Cesar lit a chalice of incense and swept the smoke over the plants as he said a prayer to the rain, to the earth, to the seedlings, to the corn.

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I don’t know how I find these happenstances in life, but it resonates with me deeply. I don’t know what my role is exactly, but I often feel like an agent of change, and if the transformation has already been kick-started, I often feel like a silent force, like a wind that helps push the ship across choppy, unpredictable seas.

To be literal, I’m a gardener tending to the growth of plants.

There was a clay pot that held a special significance. We transferred water from the rain barrel to the pot. Right away it felt different from what we usually use: a tiny, plastic watering can that is most likely a toy meant for kids. The bottom is yellow and the top is pink. It’s playful & practical, but it feels less ceremonious than the clay pot.

When everyone left, there were a few of us who stuck behind: Jeff, a punk & carpenter from West Philly, Mara, the organizer from the socialist group, and Cesar, the artist. Jeff told us about a Latino punk festival that occurs in NYC midsummer, and perhaps, when they pass through Philly, he’ll get to work on organizing a mini festival. That excited everyone. The conversation spurred on, and we talked about reaching out to neighbors who live in adjacent buildings, and perhaps, we can paint murals on their empty walls.

I get the feeling these folks are dreamers & activists. Like the seed that turns to plant that turns to flower that turns to fruit, there’s a grounded-ness to the whole chronicle.

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Sometimes I romanticize the proletariat revolution. Folks waking up whistling slinging a shovel over the shoulder digging and building. I imagine people working with the earth, closely, sometimes with machines, but mostly with hands & tools. Shovels, axes, picks, hammers, saws. Constructing the world majestically, with the utmost patience & craft, slowly cultivating strength, resistance, and local food-producing gardens. It’s a dream. I know. Maybe that’s what the commies had in mind. Marx, Mao, Castro. But they got corrupted like any man in power, and what’s their lasting legacy?

What does it mean – Workers of the world unite?

I would love for people to wake up voluntarily to build schools, sturdy housing, without argument or shootings. Feed the starving. Teachers teaching without such constraints on curriculum, doctors healing, billionaires donating, and the government doing its job aka handling authority humanely, rotating positions turning over quickly, quit making careers out of politics aka cease & desist warring on the people from perched up on that capitol hill. We are all on the work & grind every damn day. We even got a hustle on the side. Whether it be two jobs three jobs going to college serving food or in an office. It can be sickening. Where is the trickle down? There is none. It’s all bullshit coming from above. Nothing real is happening in the politics of this country. It’s all symbols. A flag got taken down. Great. A relic of the past spitting in the flames.

What about the homeless? And PTSD veterans? Women’s healthcare? Public education?

A mountain gets its name reinstated. Great. Honor the slaughtered. I’m not trying to minimize it. Denali is monstrous. Our apologies should be equally as large.

What about the southern portion of the USA that once belonged to Mexico? Immigration? Should we really expect fictional borders drawn across flimsy paper to withstand culture & time? Shit, America was stolen in the first place.

Where is our common ground in the States?

Guns & prayers.

People want 2nd amendment rights… Quit using The Gun against your neighbor and start fighting those tyrants ruling in the elite. That bastard over at Nestle? He’s stealing our water and selling it back to us for a price. And Flint with lead in their water? That governor is running a filthy regime, disabling whole cities, destroying infrastructure, letting houses crumble. These are crimes against humanity.

We need Unity woven through the hearts of people, siding with one another to fight the maelstrom of media and corrupt politics trying to divide us at the seams. We are the real change. No promise from politicians is going to work. People need to see eye to eye. We need to acknowledge, now more than ever, we live in a global mind, and working all of us simple folks with many cultures is the daily routine. We need to turn our collective eye on those who are corrupt and topple them with our rage.

Corporate welfare is taking our money one tax season at a time. Places like Walmart need to pay their employees a living wage, i.e. education through college for their families, full coverage healthcare, vacation time, sick leave, and maternity leave should all be normalized for employees who work full time.

From there, we can start talking about working fewer hours on a weekly basis. Providing We the people with the American Dream. Extended leisure time. What was the Industrial Revolution all about? And the Tech Boom? There are machines and computers that can do and should be doing a whole lot of our work for us. What is the point of Being, if we are just coerced into endless days of labor with no reward? When do we have time for actually living? And I’m not talking about the weekends. Or that token of two weeks vacation.

I used to have dreams I was sitting on the moon looking down at the earth. Our green and blue planet was always on fire, looking more like a raging sun. It would implode in on itself, and start growing anew.

I think it’s an apt image for what’s occurring in the larger collectivity of consciousness. Our world is burning in more ways than one. Ideologies that once made sense are now dissolving rapidly, and people are desperately grabbing onto anything to stave off the fire.

But, what is so scary about getting licked up by the flames and becoming ash & dust? After all, it’s the source of life & power for the phoenix.

We’re human though, not some mythological creature. We have to get real- There are people dying, there is mass oppression. What of the continuous violence?

People are still being abused by police. And police are still getting off without being held responsible. It’s madness. It’s both infuriating and sad. I’d venture to say, it is important to shed light on police brutality, but, it’s a catch-22: Does sharing videos of police violence proliferate it in both our imaginations and reality too?

It’s important to maintain awareness, but at what cost? Is this the old metaphor of growing from the muck like a lotus? We ought to maintain a finger on the pulse of reality, but if we cease to dream, if we have no vision of utopia, we are lost to a ruthless system. I am not asking for outright ignorance as a means to bliss. What I’m saying, with all the corruption we see today, it’s necessary to stay on the creative side of destruction.

The Mayan prophecy swept through the consciousness of people like a great tide flooding biblical earth in the early 2000s, destroying old thoughts and out-moded paradigms. Remember Katrina? El Nino? The tsunami in Japan?

When the Europeans invaded South America years and years ago, the indigenous quite literally absorbed the customs & language of white people only to spit it back out with their own flair & anger. Guerrilla warfare. Che. The Sandinistas. The Zapatistas. Picking up spare shovels, hoisting up their guns, shaking raging fists at warhawks & imperialist pigs. We can relearn; we need to protect the land and build community with heartfelt visions of the future.