Home > Words of Power > A quick visit to Joaquín’s, and a ceremony

A quick visit to Joaquín’s, and a ceremony

October 28, 2009

by Nathan Horowitz

from A Field Guide to Psychotropical Rainforest Birds

January 15, 2007

It was the weekend, and my young students had received a solid week of English, so I caught a ride down the river to go see Joaquín at his hut. A visitor was there, Jim Timothy from California. In his early 40s, he was slim and in very good shape. He had a receding hairline and a pencil-thin moustache like John Waters. He boasted of his ability to dance as many hours as boyfriends half his age. He described himself as an urban shaman and an organizer of rave parties with a spiritual focus.

“We always have a chill-out room,” he told me, “where there are always people on ecstasy having mellow conversations and giving each other backrubs. It’s better than having them out on the street drinking and fighting.”

He told me a dream in which he was in a natural history museum. In a dimly-lit corridor in the Egyptian section, he saw a diorama with a sphinx in it. She was alive and looking out at him through the glass. As he looked in her eyes he found that he was simultaneously himself and her, but more her than himself, because he was an emanation of her.

One day when he was a kid in Catholic school, he asked the priest, “We’re supposed to love our enemies, right?”

“That’s right.”

“And the devil is our enemy, so we’re supposed to love the devil, right?”

In another story he tells, he’s way out in the desert on an Indian reservation in the southwestern United States after having eaten peyote. He’s alone, naked, and playing a drum. A cloud of dust appears in the distance, gets closer. It’s from an approaching car. The car keeps getting closer and closer. It’s one of the tribal police cars. It drives up to him and stops. A big Indian cop wearing mirrored sunglasses gets out. Walks slowly up to him and says:

“You know you can’t do this.”

Jim says, “Yes.”

The cop says, “All right,” turns around, gets back in his car and drives away.

“Myths are computer chips,” Jim remarked in another conversation, “concentrated intelligence, survival information for hard times.”

I said, “One of my creative writing professors gave me a book of poems by the Serbian poet Vasko Popa called Homage to the Lame Wolf, named after an old Serbian tribal god. I found these poems astonishing because Popa was really operating from a different frame of reference than the other poets I were reading. The poems really were praise poems to this pagan god. I went to my professor and said this. He leaned back in his chair and said, ‘Vasko Popa knows a lot about wolves.’ I said, ‘Like what?’ My professor said, ‘And his grandmother knew even more.’ I said, ‘Like what?’ My professor said, ‘How to make love to them.’”

Jim replied, “This is a story about someone I don’t know well personally. We have a friend in common. This man works at an aquarium. They released one of their male sea lions back into the ocean. This man drives his car to the beach every Friday and picks up the sea lion and takes him home. He keeps him in the bathtub and feeds him fish, and they make love. On Sunday he returns him to the ocean.”

Joaquín made a ceremony with Jim and me. He chanted over cups of yagé and we drank and settled into hammocks and relaxed. For a long time we were quiet, listening to insects chittering and tweeting, and frogs honking and groaning, a thrilling music of wierdness. My mind took off and crash-landed in a realm of fragrant, burnt language, where mumbo jumbo, gibberish, and gobbledygook reigned.

Yagé’s not a bug or a slug, it’s a drug, but it’s way more than that, it’s a bat like a cat. It’s the distillation of the echo of gunflower elves. It’s green water in white rivers of blue oceans in the veins of bamboo. It’s subcutaneous calico lichen, vibrating neon gum that chews itself against the teeth of your mind, it’s an apparition of the face of Pan on a flower tortilla, it’s yellow blades of sunlight magnified by the black earth, orange skeins of spunlight delighting us through the perfect planet, red dreams of the One Light shaking us gently in the midnight morning saying “Hey, old friend, wake up, it’s time to BE, buddy. Time to be.” (Be, be, be, be, be, the verb reverberates off my lips.)

In a memory from my junior year in college, I’m lying on my back beneath a maple tree in October, blue sky above, and the intermittent cold breeze is shaking down the fantastic yellow red orange leaves, spinning against the sky as they fall. And I was thinking, “The tree is a natural clock that tells the time of the season. Each leaf that falls is another season second.”

What are the ramifications of this?

I chant silently, many times, the name of Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva of compassion.

I’m in a sub-aquatic realm of blue and green… there’s something fierce about it… and it has many lizard eyes peering around. What I’m looking at is the fabric of lizard skins, and some gnomes in a workshop are cutting into it with instruments like cookie cutters, taking out lizard-shaped skins and sewing them onto lizard bodies. Of course lizards come into being through biological reproduction, I know that, but the natural process is mirrored by this supernatural one. This is simply how they fabricate lizards. The scene winks out and I’m in darkness again listening to the insect songs. Joaquín is snoring quietly.

I want to get rich selling fake wisdom, now that I know everything is fake. But then even my wealth will be fake, like Monopoly money. Sun, moon, and stars, all artificial—constructed like a stage set by elves attempting to convince us that this so-called reality is real. It’s built by the elves of Maya, by Maya’s elves, by My’selves—…. In this me-istic miasma of cells and selves, this self-same magnetic magma that is the body on yagé again. I’m in one of those places where everything one thinks of is true. So totally, undeniably accurate, and yet elsewhere it could be false. Truths have physical boundaries as much as countries have. I hold still, listening. Here the shamanic universe is infinitely vast and real. Elsewhere, it is not real, and other rules apply. And always, here, the crickets are singing, and my lungs are drinking this rich, clean air like a distillation of life itself.

More than yagé, I’m intoxicated by this divine, fragrant language of nature that keeps breathing within me and without me; I’m drunk on this plant animal language of squawks and whistles and humming and singing. An immense wave of nausea hits me, immediately followed by self-pity as I remember I will die someday, and then compassion as I remember everyone else will die someday too. With tears in my eyes I resign myself to pain, foreshadower of death.

And the crickets play their wordless songs with more intensity now, and I’m not sure whether the music is inside me or outside me, a language that reverberates through me until it’s all that I am…. And I stretch and shift, relieving a pressure in my back, and float once again in the delicate black water of the forest night, my head clear, resigned to nausea and to the lightness of my limbs as if I were the captain of a boat sailing through a calm sky of smoke high above a burning city. I’m cold, and I pull the light blanket up around my shoulders. What are Jim and Joaquín doing? Go slow, my soul. My stomach hurts; I listen. Joaquín is again snoring quietly.

I recall a line from an early explorer’s description of yagé customs: “Transported by the drink, the Indians dreamed a thousand absurdities and believed them as if they were true.” Yes, how compelling these absurdities are! It’s so easy to be transported by them! It’s like you never knew you were a sailboat, and then the wind comes, and off you go! We drink a thousand truths and believe them as if they were dreams. We dream of the myths of man and the dreams we learn to believe in when we’re dreamed into this world—night and day, something and nothing, here and there, now and then. We’re all tiny shoots of the human plant, reified and pulsating.

Dozens of gnomes march past me in the darkness carrying strange tools. Fireworks explode behind them. Transported by the drink, I’m borne into a 4th of July memory from when I was a kid. It’s 1974, I’m six years old, my mom and stepfather take me to the fireworks display at Veterans Park. They greet an aquaintance, Stacy, then move to an open space and spread out the secondhand quilt on which old automobiles are printed. My mom remarks about Stacy, “She’s high as a kite.” The display begins. I love the huge firecrackers booming in the drunken velvety summer sky, the whistling-screaming yellowy-white fireworks that corkscrew as they fall, the huge green plantlike ones that hold still in the high air with their smoke lit up by their fire, and the blue starlike ones that seem like love messages from outer space, while the spectators lie on blankets underneath, saying Oooooo! Ahhhhh! In 1996, I breathe deeply, living in two times, appreciating the old familiar glorious beauty.

Nausea.

Eagles and stars whirl around my vision, arrows and olive branches, stars and stripes, red, white and blue. This is part of my design. We’re woven into each other. This is part of my totem pole. America the beautiful.

Nausea, increasing the beauty of the visions. My eyes run with tears, red, white and blue.

Nearby, in his hammock, my fellow American Jim Timothy clears his throat and sings, his voice ringing out like a bell in the darkness:

The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey,
The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey.

Take care of us, take care of us,
Hey ney yo wey,
Take care of us, take care of us,
Hey ney yo wey.

The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey,
The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey.

Take pity on us, take pity on us,
Hey ney yo wey,
Take pity on us, take pity on us,
Hey ney yo wey.

The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey,
The creator is our savior,
Hey ney yo wey.

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Nathan Horowitz has three bright blue noses, six bright yellow tongues, 45 small, perfectly-shaped jet black ears, 95 hands, most of which are sleeping, and a long, long, long yellow and black stripy tail that wraps twice around the earth.

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