The Holy Shadows
A holy wood, no woman or no man,
no colonial, not even the elder shaman,
can will down palo santo medicine.
What blood root is to Tennessee, palo santo
is to Peru: the old thing, an ancient one,
a metaphorical Christ-medicine.
Each gives itself to be cut down. Each seems
dark—bleeding from the root, or boiling oil
from its sulfury tip—and yet, it is not
the dark’s dark. In each one’s time, full
of wisdom, it dies; and dying, it is consumed;
and in its sweet consumption, lives again.
Whenever Jesus healed, Jesus retreated
(only later, in that third go round, would he
assume his sweet place as incense of palo santo).
But away from the crowds, he sat under the moon
and prayed, or in the soft light played cards
with John and Thaddeus. Or both.
God whispered, God listened: come, self,
it’s snowing. Wrap this cloth around you
for the night; stay with me and rest
in this basement beneath the earth:
there is dark fire here, where turtles sleep
and the great bears nestle chest to chest.
Once, great eagles in us swooped and swirled.
We owned all ponds; who could defeat us?
We were the whir in the heart of the bower.
But in time, we grew hungry for fuller waters,
to fly upward and always away from the thrush.
So we ran away from our own dark estuaries.
Yet the running starved us all; and starved,
we slammed into the very river that’d’ve fed us
if we’d just set down the first time hunger called.
We thought that we were drowning, and we were.
We felt our eagle selves slip off of us; they did. Yet
if we could, we would explain how this was sweet.
Forgive us, darkness. We have climbed
and climbed away from the specks of ash
that you have sent to bless our ceremonies.
God’s strange mistaken angel, you pull us down
and offer up a piece of coal to purify us. But we refuse,
trained and attuned to lightness more than light.
God wanted to rest, and yet we raged.
God moved in us with rage, and yet we stalled.
God played us mourning songs, and we all danced.
When it was tear time, Jesus wept; and in due season,
everything (except for us) gives up its raw cocoon
or seed of beastly flesh; and transformed in it,
…finds God’s darkness sweet. The butterfly,
from dying, finds God sweet. A palo santo stick’s
mutation makes it sweet. Communion wine
is sweet. Quinceanera cake is sweet. The tears
of parting, sweet. The hearth and dark bear rug
of winter, sweet. Even the harshest light,
in January, when the light is darker than darkness,
even that hard strike against the snow is sweet. Even
on the cross, in the dark hour when the Lord’s
appointed burning rent apart the curtains
from the seats of human power; even then, one imagines,
the flow of incense from God’s holy place was sweet.