Shaman in the Hole

Contributor: George Sparling

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Two ugly lizards climb my wall to eat sow bugs, flies, and cockroaches. I can direct these glaucous reptiles back into their home, a terrarium, with my pineal gland. I eat human placenta whenever I can to boost my immune system. Red peppers, beets, turnips, dandelion leaves, and fetus-food I mix in a cast iron skillet cooked on a wood-burning stove. My teeth, serrated from too much port wine and bad horse while living in Oakland, yet my words are fluent, so others tell me, thoughts spilled loose from my lips, doves escaping their cage.

It was in the hole in prison that I understood I was a shaman, one who knows. The hole was midnight black, with a concrete floor, a small opening to piss and shit, and I was always naked. Where else would you expect to find a man convicted of second-degree murder? Unceremoniously, without mysticism, spirits tore me apart to count my bones. For countless hours I slept in a half-dream as they meticulously counted all my bones. I had that extra bone. Otherwise, the spirits would’ve killed me.

My body, for a while, was a single diamond, quartz crystals filling my intestines, making me adamantine. When the guard delivered slop to me, and said, “Here’s your food, beast,” I knew I had changed, and I was human.

A saddle-billed stork and three cassowary birds lit up the darkness. The stork had a red beak that burned and suffused the hole with light, while the cassowary birds’ necks, glowing blue, red and blue sheen kept me alive in the pit. I saw the earth held up by a giant mammoth and growing from it was the Navel of the World from which the Cosmic Tree grew. I sang like a bull, and talked to yellow lemurs and dark bison. When they finally released me, I told the guards that I lived in the Tree and played on a drum made out of antelope skin. The men howled derisively, and taser-fired electric currents into me but I clung to that Tree and they looked startled because I hadn’t fallen. They stopped the torture.

After I served my sentence, I went back to my cabin in the wilderness where I wore an antler crown on my head, two stitched bear legs wrapped round my waist. I painted deer’s blood on a shirt: frogs, lizards, snakes, and birds, all crimson, life jittered on my torso. My misshapen past I cast aside, unsheathing my criminal skin. The tranquility of the creek danced through my hands, a counterpoise to the violence calcified to my bones as if to dark impermeable granite.

Dressed in street clothes, the next day I went to a bar to shoot some pool. Within ten minutes, a guy slashed me with a long black knife. “Just a quarter-inch more and you would’ve slashed my jugular,” I said to the idiot, my eyes drowning in hate, But after I got stitched up, my eyes reverted to what they were when the tasers struck me: indomitable. Don’t doubt me, you weren’t buried alive in my soul. Home, I laughed, a delirious, ludicrous roar banged against the walls. The knife reminded me of a silver salmon flashing in a ripple of water.

Now, a beard covers the scar like tough, recalcitrant black moss: unafraid eyes, my fierce beauty I stare at in the reflection of a chipped, cracked mirror. But, that wild thing plays in my being’s jazz, its storm and peace, which makes my life a dream of dance, of blood, love, death. Even murder.

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