When I read that sacred datura
was/is believed to be a magical plant
by Aztecs Chumash Zuni Jivaro Yaqui Tohono O’odham and more
taken/given as a sacrament by religious authorities
shamans sadhus yogis thuggees etc.
to induce visions
for aid in shape-shifting
or as a doorway
to the flaming world of the dead
a place you need to go to sometimes:
I want to eat some
My friends and family
knowing I lack wisdom
“You’re not going to eat it, are you?” Wendy asks.
“There’s a reason they call it loco weed,” Eric warns.
“Scopolamine, atropine, hyoscyamine,” Dad chants,
like a witch doctor
naming the toxins of datura
Dad is not a witch doctor
but a biochemist
with an interest in and broad knowledge of plant alkaloids
so basically a witch doctor.
Sacred datura developed poison
as a defense against those
who might otherwise eat it
such as me
this is a pretty good system
I decide not to eat datura
and go back to looking for wisdom in the usual places: texts
articles on popular science
and self-help books
who has lots of suggestions
although he can be annoying:
feel the shoulder of the lion, he says
no better than eating datura
which can kill you
unless you happen to be
one particular insect:
coevolved with sacred datura
its nocturnal pollinator
drinking its nectar
transporting its pollen
unhurt by datura’s poisons
but made drunk by them
flying in large draggy loops.
Perhaps then they are in the Flower World
the dimension that shamans go to
on the wings of datura
so I read
I’m always reading
that’s how I learned about the hawkmoths
whom I’m jealous of now
because they have datura all to themselves.
where is my mystery-containing moonglow flower?
where the petals and leaves that sustain me and only me?
Voca, the University of Arizona Poetry Center's audiovisual archive, features recordings from the Center's long-running Reading Series and other readings presented under the auspices of the Center. The earliest of these recordings is a Robert Creeley reading from 1963. Voca includes multiple recordings of poets who have read for the Poetry Center numerous times over the years. All recordings are made available with the permission of the reader. Images are from the Center's photographic archives.
Cybele Knowles reads Sacred Datura and Alison Hawthorne Deming reads Saguaro as part of this Voca recording: A Poetic Inventory of Saguaro National Park.
Ditches, roadsides, washes, and a wide range of desert communities, from lowlands to some sixty-five hundred feet.
With four-inch-wide trumpetlike white blossoms, the datura is a large flower. It looks like a giant version of morning glory. The leaves are large and dark green.
This herbaceous shrub’s spectacular white flowers open at night and close during the day. It is a common plant and uncommonly dangerous. Native Americans have used its seeds “to prevent miscarriage,” writes Natt N. Dodge, and shamans use it “to induce visions.” One nonshaman who reported trying the datura likened it to “having his mind ripped apart.” But just looking at the plant can be visionary. Dodge calls datura “a common and arresting sight.” It is. Look. But don’t touch.
Illustration by Paul Mirocha
“Sacred Datura” by Cybele Knowles from The Sonoran Desert, A Literary Field Guide edited by Eric Magrane, Christopher Cokinos, and Paul Mirocha. © 2016 the Arizona Board of Regents. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.