The Shaman Speaks of Alchemy

Wisdom of the Shaman by J.D. Challenger

Note: You can listen to this poem on Podbean.

This is how I work. First, I tell you about the
last time I journeyed into the nightmare, how the
sky hummed like it was going to seize me by the wrists
with lightning bolt hands and
shake me loose from my body. How it
shoved its face down to mine and threatened to shrink itself into
fuzzed rainbow serpents that would slide into every orifice, into
every pore. How it
demanded the right to divide in two and
wind up my spine in demented double-helix fashion and then
curl itself into a cosmoramic expanse, smoky-skinned and diamond-dotted,
inside of my neck. It would have been
a perfect replica of night itself, with
black zephyr pushing the air out of my trachea and
stars scratching their names into the walls of my throat,
ripping away tiny letter lines made of red velvet and
leaving blood monograms in their place. Next,

I turn my back to you and
walk away, cleansing the air clean of
your buzzing, your questions, and your sighs
like hope trying to escape your chests and
relieve the aching pressure behind your eyes and
in your throats. I leave behind
no epistles, no instructions, except for
an azure forlorn wearing a red dust cloud. It hangs in the space
where my songs of rattle, chant, and
drumbeat feet once were.

Now, this is when I go
into the crevices of mind and chaos. You tell me that these
are places where you do not want to go. I begin by
walking forward, face first, into melted fire. I let it
cling to my arms, my cheeks, my chest – and I can feel it
ripping me off of myself, dropping my skin away
without the unclenching of zippered teeth. I am a
a being of prickle and flame,
a suit of burning on a bleached skeleton. The anguish
escapes me in screams that
claw and swipe at the sky to rip away its skin
with vengeance. I look back and see
a trail of gold and scarlet feathers lying scattered behind me,
their barbs curling upward into blades of living flame –
and for a moment, I laugh, soundlessly,
in spite of my tears. I have always suspected
that we had wings.

Then, the fire dies. I fall
to my knees, clothed in void. They land on
Nothing, a spent crucible which has
risen up and wrapped itself around me like a black womb. It
merges with me. I collapse into a floating fetal ball,
suspended and drawn inside, my back
closing into a concave fold and my limbs
curling backwards into me like ingrown
sorrow. And I’ve been robbed of
the music in my throat, chords ripped out of it
and burned after my last scream. But it is

that I am reactivated by light which
gently pours through me, through this void, as a
single strand. It winds around me like a hand, a branch of being
with pale empyreal fingers of starlight borrowed from itself. It is
lucent incense smoke, curling and wrapping itself around me to
open me up and bequeath itself into me, into my
dead and cold umbra. It draws me into itself, and I drift
upward, unfolding as I go. The black around me
thaws away, dissolving into the azure and rock
that I had just left – and with limbs like water, I
rise up from the ground. I feel clean, and I can
sing again. It is then that I come back to you and
bless you with the same light that now pours out of me where the
lunatic demon rainbow had threatened to pour into me
before. This is our light. But

when the dust grows dark on my insides and
threatens to turn me back into lead, I will
need to do this again. I will
burn, out of the reach of your eyes. Just like
last time. This is a work
that can only be done alone.

Poem © 2010 Nicole Nicholson. All Rights Reserved.
Original poem appears at:

One Response to The Shaman Speaks of Alchemy

  1. julespaige says:

    I have written as a shaman also. Aged and alone in my trials and healing. I enjoyed reading this – we are so many personalities woven into one. Thank you.

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