With a resounding cry the protest sang we have nothing to lose but our chains

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urban medicine

no filter on this photo. everything is a shade of violet, pink, purple, magenta at sundown. never practiced much graffiti but i appreciate it. always saw growing plants in abandoned lots as a variation, a kinship in practice, a certain kind of art. especially encouraging the growth of the wild ones.

many people question the practice of allowing plants to grow on their own accord. but when we get to talking, engaging, and addressing issues like clean air, deterring illegal dumping, creating a tiny ecology of livelihood, people come to understand. the plants are often here to help us.

with regards to the photo, you can see the money sign sprayed next to the wheat paste. our intention has never been to make money at the garden. but it has been to disrupt the normal flow of capital. developers have had their way with abandoned space in philly. it is long past due that people challenge that. there is a network of gardens throughout the city who are fighting for the land. there is a webwork of people fighting for the rights of housing. we are not the first. we are not the last. at moments it seems disparate, but connections are made strangely in the way that seeds flutter through the air and land down in the most unassumed places. they care not for borders and grow wherever they are determined to grow.

the echinacea in the foreground has historically been worked with as an antidote to snake bites. at a certain point in time, most likely recently when snakes became less populous in populated spaces, echinacea shifted into an immune booster. it stimulates the immune system, so it is recommended only for limited periods. otherwise overuse can potentially push the immune system into allergic reaction. more or less the body starts rejecting the medicine.

sometimes it is necessary to surge and pull back and administer different medicines to complement and continue what has already been put into effect. i’m currently witnessing this with the move from 8th and cherry to city hall. the movement and free flow of people is not only necessary but natural.

it is clear to many of us that we live in dire times. there are moments concurrently happening across the country. from teachers’ strikes to OCCUPY to electoral splashes of DSA candidates. everyone deserves access to education, healthcare, time for family, shelter over our heads, nutrient dense food, paid vacation and extended holiday, paid maternity leave, and the list goes on.

to see the world flourish like the old texts say, what is everyone actually working for

Bloodlust

Consider that you are loved.
Even when people don’t know how to show it.
Even when you don’t know how to receive it.
Consider that you are loved.

There is a lot going on in this world. A lot of struggle. People are hurting in all kinds of ways. We all know this. We feel it deeply. In our bones. In our flesh. In our shortness of breath. The panic. We lash out. Bare our teeth. Snap and growl. Especially with those we love. We snarl. Spit. Act nasty. Get ugly. We bottle up our emotions and explode.

We have this tool. The internet. To reveal our happiness. Our scorn. Our absolute disgust. Our love and relationships. We tell little lies and noble truths to garner scraps of attention. We fumble and flop and flounder
biding our time until what?

What is more intimate and revealing than feeling safe to express our darkness, our hatred, our anger? To be listened to in silence. Ears big as elephants. Hearts large as houses. What is more intimate and revealing than the gesture of loving space held?

I spent a small bit of time with an Argentinian writer and anarchist outside of Buenos Aries. We talked about love. Amor y rabia. He disagreed vehemently with the idea that “all you need is love” in no roundabout words he called it shit. People need housing and healthcare. People need time to spend with their families. People need food. You can’t eat love.

I didn’t disagree with him. But our conversation was loud and passionful because we still need love.

We still need love.

We live in greedy times.
The days are eaten up by work.
Why?
Work is eaten up by bosses.
How come?
The vicious cycle plays out from the time we hit the alarm clock to the time we clock out. Labor is stolen. Time is stolen. Where does that leave love? Love is not a currency. Love is not quantifiable.

Still…

Love gets shoved into a box and wrapped as a present to give a few times a year. Love gets a hallmark card scribbled on at the last minute the barcode succinctly ignored. Love gets pushed around yelled at stomped on used like a doormat ripped out of the chest tossed in the gutter and rained on.

I love the rain.

Love gets the brunt of the anger and rage. The hatred swirling in the short breaths taken without acknowledging we are actually living blood pumping hearts stomping out of the chest into the streets to scream at whoever will listen.

Love. We are mourning. We are grieving. We do not always mean what we say. We may believe in the moment the harshness. The fuck you. The curses swelling like waves. But we are a loud cry from those who deserve it.

The rule makers have no peace in their hearts. Only greed.

The greed trickles down
turns us all green
we puke our disgust
onto one another.
We are covered in the anger
meant for another
meant for the collective
to wield as a weapon
to recall times of the guillotine
pulling down figure heads
and holding them up for show.

Consider
Consider that you are loved.
Consider you are powerful
yet humbled.

Consider that you are hurt by a loved one. It is true. We hurt one another. There is no excuse. There is no retribution for unthinkable transgressions. We are forced into situations by circumstances systemic. We cannot become alienated and isolated over minutia. We cannot spurn one another without cold reason. We must take up our chains. We must take up our anger and rage.

We must…

As I finish this poem
I overhear lyrics spoken

“I never had healthcare
just a pistol on the waist
for the people”

It gives me a moment of pause and contemplation.

There’s no denying these times are dire.
The fire burns.
The fire burns.

Consider that you are love.
That you are
another piece of the puzzle.
Without you
the big picture crumbles at the feet of tyrants. Full of greed. Full of unknowing.

We all deserve better. So much better.

Narrow Passage

I. Hornet’s Nest Dysphoria

“The first thing to depart in mental illness is the familiar. And what takes its place is bad news because not only can you not understand it, you also cannot communicate it to other people. The madman experiences something, but what it is or where it comes from he does not know.” – Philip K. Dick, Valis

It feels dangerous to talk about it out loud. So I take to writing it down.

The illusions of grandeur started when I was 19 or 20 years old. It was a three or four year period living in this particular hellscape. The internal world I traversed at that time was one of psychic torture swinging into bouts of ecstatic overload. It was volatile. Apocalyptic. Paranoia wove its way through my mind ceaselessly. I forever thought friends were inviting me out as a joke. Even a funeral I went to, beforehand, I had thoughts of not going because I kept thinking it was a ploy to out me as a scourge unfit for family and friendship. I had enough presence of mind to talk myself down from these thoughts, but it was difficult.

I remember hearing voices telling me I was a prophet, the reincarnation of Buddha, the second coming of Christ. I had thoughts telling me I was sent here by God to unveil secrets to those around me. Prophecies. Everything was a sign pointing me closer and closer. To what though? I don’t know. Enlightenment? Transcendence? Fulfillment of divine purpose? It must have been a click in my brain. A jolt in my being. A freak show of ego and narcissism. Chemistry out of whack and firing haywire. There were any number of rationalizations for it, but the fact of the matter was clear. This is happening. I don’t have any small doubt it is a major reason for me being a writer. I wanted to hammer those thoughts into submission. I wanted to mold them into stories more sane and relatable. Transform the language and find new words. I wanted to channel those thoughts into something less cultish. Less religious.

I also did not in the least want to walk that path into schizophrenia. Mental hospitals. Dissociative disorders. Strapped in institutions. Drugged into zombification.

I was haunted by fear. Outlandish visions. I had nightmares of being gang raped and beaten pretty regularly. I wondered if I was tortured in another life for a practice of witchcraft. I recall smoking weed with friends, and feeling the need to stop, because it felt as though I was inside everyone’s heads, hearing all their thoughts. I had no idea what to make of my experience, this unreality, this alternative world, that worked its way into my thinking, but I dealt with it on my own.

There were nights I sat in my room unsure how I made it through another day. I felt like I had zero control, like I was being pushed through life by an external force co-opting my inner will. I gave thanks and praises to whatever it was keeping me safe and harboring me through the chaos. Many times I considered taking off into the quiet life of monkhood. A monastery. A mountain. Somewhere cloistered and sacred. Practice daily ritual and meditation. I don’t recall talking about this with anyone until years later. Even then, I’ve kept very quiet about it. It certainly showed up in some of my writing, albeit thinly masked and self-ridiculed. I’m 31 now. It’s been about a decade. I feel like it’s been long enough to revisit these thoughts in earnest, because they don’t leave. They’re still in my memories. Much quieter now. Almost an absurdist abstraction. A surrealist spat at a distance. I’ve dealt with it in ways that I knew how. It’s different of course in the present. Back then, I felt forever on the brink of losing complete and total touch with reality. Like my head was exploding with archetypal upheaval.

It’s ironic in a way too. Don’t the teachings of Christ make such suggestions? At least the Nag Hammadi Texts? The kingdom of heaven is within. Christ is in each one of us. We don’t need the middleman of the priest to know our connection to the universe or god. In all probability, we don’t want the priest to corrupt our natural encounter with feminine.

At the time, I was also reading about shamans, so this archetypal energy was presenting itself simultaneously. But the modern American culture makes as much space for shamans in society as it does for prophets. So that didn’t seem like a much better path to tread. Michel Foucault wrote about the village idiot. The person where madness found a dwelling. Mircea Eliade relegated the shaman to a madman suffering schizophrenic delusions.

Given what was arising in me and what roles are acceptable to fulfill in modern society, I suffered a lot of confusion. At the same time this was happening, I felt more and more a part of me that is a woman. I remember a dream I had in which my mom and aunts and the women ancestors sat around me in a ceremonial circle as I heaved and cried and screamed, “I don’t want this! Why me!” “It is part of your gift,” they said calmly. “You must accept it or it will eat you alive.” The idea of being transgender or non-binary was barely on the periphery of my understanding, but even then, I have often felt like and continue to feel like both a man and a woman. Not one or the other, but an interweaving of both. This is part of the reason why Willow has become a chosen pen name.

I ate mushrooms for the first time when all this was happening. To be honest, I believe it helped me ground, get real, filter and integrate these thoughts.

During one journey in particular, I traveled back thousands of years. I lived in the trees and wore a loincloth. I overlooked the forest village in which we lived. It was paradisiacal. As I returned to the present day, I experienced the fall from grace and entered a period of profound sadness. How could civilization develop in such a way? So much violence toward one another and toward the earth. Violence that is both explicit and unconscious. But that trip, deep into the terrain of psyche, helped me understand the nature of those reoccurring grandiose illusions. We are complex beings. We are more than just our present life. We have memories encoded in our DNA. Our genes carry the weight of millennia. I don’t need to give my whole identity over to one particular upheaval of thought patterning.

There was another voice that said over and over again, “You are gay. You are gay. You are gay.” It was frustrating. It was clear that women turned me on. My sexual fantasies indicated as such. Men, not so much, but I was and continue to be open. Experimental. So sure, I’m gay. I feel an emotional, romantic connection with men. Not all men. A heartfelt brotherhood. But as teenagers, our touching one another was always aggressive and competitive, expressed through sports and wrestling around. There was less hugging. Little to no softer intimacy. This is something I craved much more than sexual attraction. There was this phrase “butt buddies.” It indicated that two friends were attached at the hip and vaguely implied that they were fucking one another. It was used as a derogative. A point of joking and making fun of people. Closeness with men was clearly discouraged.

I grew up in a place that was progressive and open, but still people were steeped in tradition. Homophobia existed in subtle ways. It wasn’t so much a hatred for the LGBTQ community, but more so a fear of it. “You’re gay” was a way to say, “you’re dumb.” When it came to sexuality, it seemed as though you could be either straight or gay but no in between. There were no degrees along the spectrum. Only a strong binary. Gay or straight. Man or woman. In the closet or out. Strict, defined boundaries. As someone who identifies as queer, this didn’t appear on my radar when I was younger. It was almost too complex. My whole experience was too complex for me to get a grip on.

Most of my younger days were spent in a hazy darkness. The space needed to find clearness of thinking and expression of an inner world didn’t really exist. I remember being relatively miserable. I had a few friends I could relate to on these matters, but I don’t think we had the language or concepts to describe what was happening to us. We most definitely searched though.

I understand consciousness forever ebbs and flows, changing like a chameleon depending on the context of society and individual state of mind, but still, it’s important to name the delusion.

Invisible

Several months ago I met a guy at the Iglesias Garden. He had fallen on hard times after working construction and getting injured. A rogue blade flew off a power tool he was using and sliced through his cheekbone. Miraculously, he kept his eye. He had a number of surgeries and was loaded up on pain meds. Eventually, as the story goes, he couldn’t afford the meds when the script ran out, was still in pain, so took a substance cheaper and easier to find on the streets, got addicted, and his whole life fell into the proverbial gutter.

But he’s resilient and strong and wakes up in the morning for the daily hustle.

I ran into him recently at Graffiti Pier. We walked around and talked for a while. He recounted memories going back to his childhood visiting the pier with his grandfather. Back then, it was in full operation and pretty much open to the public. “The biggest crane on the whole river,” he said. “Seriously, it was enormous.” They used to climb it as kids and jump off into the water. “I almost drowned,” he said. “I went down, it must have been 20 feet, I needed another breath before I made it all the way to the surface. Don’t know how I made it. A lot of people died right here. A lot.”

You can feel the ghosts. The place is eerie and surreal. All the abandoned concrete pillars adorned with graffiti. People go to the pier to swim, fish, barbecue, practice their spray paint skills, you name it. Although private property, it is totally unofficially Philadelphia’s urban sanctuary for artists, photographers, tourists, weirdos, crust punks, neighbors, runners, etc etc everyone steps foot on that pier. It is dazzling. It is dream-like. And it represents something wildly human and free.

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It is abandoned, and perhaps dangerous, but that adds an element to its charm.

We continued to walk around as he recounted the days when horse stables sat at the entrance. He remembers petting the horses fondly. He said he hadn’t been there in years. All the memories bubbled up visibly into his eyes.

He said he’s living under 95, but the cops came by and gave them a weeks notice. He keeps getting pushed around. The homeless in general keep getting pushed around. They have no where to go, so they move around like refugees in their own city.

It is sad and frustrating, at times infuriating, to think about folks and how they get to be so down-and-out. A lot of people blame the individuals for making poor choices, but the reality is, a lot of them are unexpecting victims of an uncaring system. The type of healing he needed, specifically, was not offered to him. He nearly lost half his face. He was loaded up with pain killers and sent on his way. When the pain doesn’t subside, what does one do?

Our streets are swimming with opiates.

If you live in Philly, walk down to Kensington & Lehigh and you might just get stabbed in the foot by a needle. People openly shoot up and discard their needles right there on the curb. I’m not trying to be dramatic or hyperbolic. I’m not trying to paint poverty porn. I’m not trying to virtue signal. This is, simply speaking, the reality I see on a daily basis.

Conrail, a division of Norfolk Southern, the same company who owns the pier, also owns the tracks in Kensington where the homeless had been living in a tent city. Philly’s Skid Row. It was pretty much, as the saying goes, out of sight, out of mind. The people living there got the boot though, and now they live scattered about the surrounding neighborhoods. A lot have taken refuge under the tracks along Lehigh.

One thing that made me take heart: As he and I talked, he mentioned he’s gone back to the garden where we grow food. He said he picked a bunch of tomatoes and squash. It encouraged me to keep growing. I often go there alone, and sometimes meet neighbors picking food, but it’s another thing to hear it from him. A few tomatoes here and there isn’t changing the world, but it’s a means of connection and showing that some of us care.

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The Countess

A few years back a friend introduced me to a yoga teacher. She was in her eighties but still going strong. A firecracker if I’ve ever seen one. A stern woman with an incredible will. She was a doctor and a practitioner of Iyengar yoga. She studied intensely with BKS Iyengar in India in the 1970s and traveled just about every year to visit him. They kept a hand written correspondence with one another until his death.

She held private classes from her home. I couldn’t afford her cost, but she took a liking to me at first, so didn’t charge me anything.

Every time I went over there, we sat in her kitchen and drank tea before the lesson and after the lesson sometimes too. She always had a cookie to give me. She was like a grandmother and a teacher. We played chess and talked about art. Especially Aubrey Beardsley. She loved Aubrey Beardsley. I took a liking to him as well.

She also sat on the board of a poetry magazine. So we talked about poetry and I gave her some of my writing to look over. One day we sat in her computer room. I was working on some love poetry. She wanted to hear it so I started reciting. Right off the bat, she went in with the critiques. Telling me line after line that my syntax was pathetic and my word choice was silly. I told her to let me read it through. Just give it a listen before we start with the critiques. Halfway through she lost her cool. “That’s it!” she yelled. “Forget it! Forget convention! Let’s hop into bed right now! Take off your clothes!” I looked at her queerly and smiled. I took it as a joke and kept reading the poetry. She calmed down slightly, but still impassioned stated, “Okay! That’s enough! Time for your lesson.”

I thought it rather abrupt, but went along with it.

One day she asked me to meet her at the place where she got her hair cut. It was this enormous row house on Walnut Street near Rittenhouse. She gave me a tour. It looked fit for nobility. Huge chandeliers. Fabulous winding staircases. A library right out of an antiquarian movie set. Apparently one of the oldest buildings in Philadelphia, all the wood still preserved. The moldings. The floors. It was unbelievably beautiful. Stunning, even. Grandiose. When we got to the front desk area, she told the receptionist that I was her boyfriend. I was so taken by surprise, I think I turned fifty shades of red. The woman looked at me in amusement. “Is that right?” I’m not terribly quick-witted, so I just shook my head no and shrugged my shoulders like, “I don’t know what the hell is going on in her head.”

We walked back to her place for a lesson. The lessons consisted of an hour or two holding three, maybe four simple poses for extended periods of time. She used lots of props and let me lie in corpse pose until I drifted off into sleep. It was enjoyable and meditative.

This one day in particular, before starting the yoga lesson, she wanted to teach me something else about life energy. And let me tell you, it fucking weirded me out. I don’t know why I didn’t quit right there on the spot. Perhaps I’m a freak myself.

She brought me over to a mirror that we both stood in front of. She positioned herself in front of me and asked me to put my hand on her back. “Do you feel that muscle when I move my arm like this?” She swung her arm up like a ballerina and I nodded. “Okay,” she said. “Hold your hand right there.” And she began breathing deeper, tossing her head back, and exclaiming, “Look at me! Am I getting younger? Look at my skin! Is it getting smoother?” And as I looked at her like what the fuck, her appearance did seem to change ever so slightly.

I was both revolted and seduced. Who is this woman? What am I doing here? Is she draining my youth from me? Have I met the reincarnation of the Countess Bathory?

Every interaction wasn’t like that, but the narrative was starting to coalesce in a certain direction.

One of the final lessons sealed the deal on our relationship. I sat down as instructed with my legs straight in front of me. I held there for ten minutes or so in silence. Then she began to click her tongue at me. She walked over and lowered herself onto my foot. Specifically her pussy on my big toe. She wore yoga pants so it wasn’t skin to skin. I remember thinking, “Is this really happening?” Then all of a sudden I started getting a tingle in my leg and felt myself getting a hard on. I started breathing deeper and heavier to try and control myself, but to no avail. She stared at me with the face of a gorgon, “Why are you breathing so heavily? Stop that. Get yourself under control.” I thought maybe she didn’t realize how she had placed herself, but then it became clear. “You think you know what sex is?” she laughed. “You don’t know the first thing about sex.” She got up and went into the other room.

On the outside I kept a stoic face, but on the inside I was cracking up with holy shit laughter. I can’t believe I get myself into these situations.

After that, she never called me again. I didn’t fuck her, so she dumped me.

Snake Eyes

Where does romance come from?

I’m specifically interested in the feeling of romance, but my curiosity has led me to take a quick look at the etymology of the word. To break it down, as an adjective, romance describes any language coming from Rome, i.e. the romance languages that derive from Latin. And from that point onward, those who told stories in the vernacular where known to romance. Often those stories involved knights, heroes, lovers, and adventure, hence the meaning we generally associate with it today.

I sense there is some patriarchal dismantling to be had given its formation during the days of chivalry, but I’ll save that for another time when my thoughts have delved more deeply into its origins and connotations.

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For now, let it suffice on the surface, the feeling of romance arose from a walk through the city, a section known as Kensington.

The night air remained chilly, but not terribly freezing. Nice enough for a walk under the El with the train rattling overhead. The floodlights along the avenue showcased storefronts, most closed up for the night. The metal shutters rolled down to the ground with a clang covering up the glass windows and doors. Barbershops stayed lit up with lights and music and customers into the later hours.

I was on my way to grab a steaming bowl of noodles.

I passed an AA and NA recovery building. People hung outside. Chatting lively. A fenced-in yard stood next to it. Wonky, wooden crosses dug into the ground erected on slanted angles. Across the street a Franciscan soup kitchen loomed humble and unnoticeable save the people always around. When the weather is warm, people hang there for hours on end. Even tonight, a person slept curled up tightly with blanket, snuggled into a nook between the steps and a wall to stay protected from the wind. How tired must one be to fall asleep in the cold?

I served food there once or twice. I remember talking with a monk brother about meditation and psychedelia. In his deepest trances, he saw images of Christ meditating before him, emanating blue white and golden light. I didn’t doubt his experience. He called it visceral despite it being a visual hallucination. I just looked at him like, “You’re tripping.” He traveled with a number of other monks from Wisconsin to Philadelphia stopping at other soup kitchens and churches along the way.

I find I’m often in similar places.

A few years back I attended a Quaker church hosting Buddhist monks. They wore robes like the Franciscan monks except different colors. The Buddhist monks traveled around touring cities and sacred spaces meditating through the creation of sand mandalas.

I found it fascinating.

On one night in particular they planned to play music. I arrived early with a friend, her kids, and their friends. Right away, they ran off to explore the church. I sat with the sand mandala on my own and stared into the patterns and colors, the infinitesimally small mounds arranged so delicately, appreciating the elusive magnitude of it all.

Not soon after, a grandfather and granddaughter walked in.
“Make sure you don’t stare them in the eyes!” He warned. He carried a balloon in one hand and her hand in the other.
“How come, Pop?”
“They’ll hypnotize you!”
“Oh!” The little girl looked surprised yet enchanted, filled with a million lovable questions. She couldn’t control her excitement and interest, so all those millions of questions condensed and funneled into a simple exclamation, “But how?”
“They have snakes in their eyes!”
“Oh!” She hollered again and pointed at me from across the room, “Is he one of the snake monks?”
I smiled at the question. Her grandfather looked at me and nodded his head, “Look at his eyes. He’s got snakes!” I didn’t know what to think about that response, but it amused me. They walked over to a nearby pew.

People slowly filed in. Everyone quiet and whispering. Even the kids kept their cool for the most part.

The monks ushered us over to a different area for the music. We sat in pews and they faced us. I don’t know what I expected, maybe something relaxing or soft. Which it wasn’t. These instruments, which I couldn’t name other than brass, a shaker, a scraper, a drum, probably another horn, in addition, an interspersal of throat singing, made so much clanging and discordant nonsensical sound, it jolted me awake. It crashed into my peripheral understanding of meditation and smashed it up, dancing all over it like a danse macabre. The kids kept trying to stifle their laughter, the parents kept trying to shush them, but the laughs just bubbled up and out like a creek unimpeded and joyful. It was great. The playing. The jolting. The meditation. The laughter. It felt like seeing an abundantly playful noise band.

In all my explorations of meditation, juxtaposed to what we expect, I find the nature of violence to be a consistent theme. One full moon many moons ago, I attended a chanting meditation of the Rinpoche lineage. So much of the language described how dastardly corrupt the world is, and how strong and prevailing in spirit we must be to walk through it.

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We often have this idea that peace of mind is accomplished high up in the mountains far away from society, and that’s true, it can be glimpsed at and cultivated there. But what happens when the practitioner returns to the poverty of the city? It’s a whole different world. The subtle and overt violence is striking. The gentle mask is ripped away. The air is dirty and the water’s poisoned. Are we trying to expel the darkness of life or understand it? We often have this idea that we must always be standing in the light to be healed, to acquire knowledge and wisdom, to live righteously. I think there is merit in that, but I believe wholeheartedly in living with the darkness, in continued confrontation with our demons, treading the shadowed waters. We have to be honest with ourselves. The day falls dark. The moon disappears once a month. The stars shine thousands of lightyears away. How many of them have already exploded into death?

My last semester at school, I volunteered at a soup kitchen in downtown Boston. I went once a week just about every week for a few months. We prepped food, served those who were living there and a few others who came in off the streets. It was a halfway house, so a lot of the folks were either addicts or coming out of jail or both. After serving, we ate with everyone and conversed. It seemed just about everyone wanted to talk about god. They spoke intensely and wild-eyed about their journeys discovering the divine. It pummeled them with inspiration to talk and read until their heads cracked like lightning. I was there for it. No doubt.

When we got to talking, everyone assumed I was there for a class requirement, so they acted surprised when I told them I was volunteering simply because I felt compelled. Good for you, they said. It’s not really volunteering if you’re required to do it anyhow. During that time I found myself buddying up with all kinds of people considered degenerates, drunkards, addicts, criminals etc etc more or less the demimonde, the underworld, the subterranean of castaways and outcastes. 

One day I remember slicing my thumb open terribly bad. We were cutting bagels. Blood dripped onto the table like little ink blots. The pain sat me down for a long moment. I got woozy. The blood rushed from my head. Everything flashed white.

A woman stared at me smiling, “It makes you feel alive, doesn’t it?” I looked at her bug-eyed and she smiled wider. I felt like I was going to pass out or throw up. I felt sick. But her suggestion took my mind a different route. I recovered the ground under my feet and got back to helping out.

That weekend, I drove to White Plains, New York with a friend, hopped a train to NYC and a bus to Philly. My thumb throbbed and yelled at me the whole time. I tried to practice my breathing while repeating the mantra, “Pain is an illusion. Pain is an illusion.” But that worked only vaguely. The pain faded in and out slowly, without warning, and when the pain returned, the intensity didn’t subside.

That night I arrived home, I stayed up staring at the gash, wondering about the healing process. I wanted to watch the mending occur. The coagulation. The scabbing. The slowly closing up of skin like a flower opening and closing in tune with the sun. I didn’t have the patience to stare at it that long.

At one point, my cat walked into the room. I must have been in such a daze. She appeared to motion me to follow. So I did. She sat down next to an aloe plant and looked at me in that peculiar way cats do, aloof yet expecting something. I held my hands out like, “What?” So she licked my thumb and it all made sense. Of course. Aloe. I broke off a tiny piece, spoke with it, and asked it to heal my thumb. I slept with aloe that night and the following night, and in three days time, to my amazement, the cut healed like magic. I still have a little indentation on my thumb from that.

Since that time, I’ve never experienced such quick healing with aloe specifically. I continue to use it when it’s around, but tend towards other woundworts like St. John’s.

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Only one other instance have I personally experienced rapid healing of that nature: I was pounding rebar stakes into the ground with a metal mallet hammer and it slipped down the side of the rebar and smashed my instep. Everyone knows how sensitive that area is. I yelled fuck! and took long, deep breaths. I went back to work, and afterwards, took a trip to the garden to pick a couple comfrey leaves. By the time I got home, my foot turned red and was beginning to swell. I didn’t even crush the leaves up into a poultice. I just wrapped my foot with the clean, intact comfrey leaf, securing it with an ace bandage. Before going to sleep, I brushed up on my study of it and stared into the other leaf I harvested. If you’ve never stared into a comfrey leaf, especially when you’re under the spell of pain, I recommend doing it. It is a deep leaf. It penetrates. It’s also called knit-bone. When I woke up the next morning, I had no pain in my foot and no evidence of swelling or bruising. I could walk on it with ease, but it was still sensitive to a heavy touch. It healed within a week.

I’m not saying plants work like this all the time, but it does happen.

When my friend broke her hand, I wrapped it with a comfrey poultice. Before doing so, it looked like a baseball mitt. She could barely move her fingers. Within an hour of applying the poultice, the swelling completely subsided and she could gently and slightly close her hand. When she showed it to her aunt and mom, they looked at me like I was some kind of witch.

I know it’s hard to believe, but plants really do work wonders with our bodies.