Pot and Poetry by Floyd Salas
Floyd Salas is an award-winning and critically-acclaimed author of six books, including the novels Tattoo the Wicked Cross, What Now My Love, Lay My Body on the Line, and State of Emergency, the memoir Buffalo Nickel, and a book of poetry, Color of My Living Heart. He is the recipient of National Endowment for the Arts, California Arts Council, Eugene F. Saxton, Rockefeller Foundation, Joseph Henry Jackson and other fellowships and awards, as well as the PEN Oakland Literary Censorship Award and two outstanding teaching awards. He is a founder and president of the multicultural writing group, PEN Oakland.
By nature solitary and monkish, pot fits me like a priest’s hood. Pot is for thinkers. Pot makes you think. Pot makes you more aware and intelligent. Pot is not like hard booze, which obliterates your brain with sleep. It makes your mind buzz without sleeping, you stay awake and dream, daydream.
Being studious all my life, a reader before kindergarten, after my father brought sound and letter together when he read out an EEEEEEEEE scream of a boy going down a hill on a sled in a comic strip and followed it and the sled down the slope with his finger, I like to think. Thinking to me is a form of entertainment. I sit and think, a lot. Pot helps you, me, everybody think.
Your mood determines what you will think on pot, as well as in your daily prosaic life. So, if you have problems, pot will make you think about those problems. People call thinking about your problems worry. This may be unpleasant. Worry is unpleasant. People don’t like to be worried and so don’t like to smoke pot and worry. This is called a bad trip.
I have not had bad trips because I like thinking about my problems: only then can I solve them. Paul Bowles wrote a book of short stories called “A Hundred Camels in the Courtyard”, in which every Arab protagonist smokes pot to help him solve his personal problems. The old Arab proverb at the beginning of the book states: “He who smokes two pipefuls of kif before breakfast every morning has the strength of a hundred camels in the courtyard.” These Arabs are not scholars, but they are pot smokers and use pot to think about their problems. This is not getting high to party, as with alcohol. This is getting a mental buzz on to ruminate and ponder the whys and wherefores of your own personal existence. That’s one reason I smoke pot. I like to think.
Thinking is seeing, too, and not just the internal mind process but the external view around you. Sensitivity it’s called when you suddenly see a dew drop on the knobby bud of a pear tree. That’s awareness. That’s a higher consciousness. Higher consciousness is when you suddenly see the pattern of behavior in a person’s acts, including your own. Higher consciousness is seeing the meaning in a poem. Or suddenly feeling great love for everything and everyone around you. A burst of spontaneous joy that makes waves of love roll over you. The world is beautiful. The small things count. You can understand that a grass strand is worthy and meaningful in itself.
This is higher consciousness achieved through the use of pot. This is not getting drunk to escape your problems. This is using a natural vegetable without alien elements in it such as those in hard booze and heroin and morphine and cocaine and speed to increase your perception. This, pot, is God’s growth. This is like wine or beer, easy on you, good for you. This is good for you because it opens you up to your creative love instinct instead of your predatory killer instinct, the instinct to survive, like booze brings.
This is why I smoke pot, first of all, to love. Booze unleashes the monsters of your subconscious, the pent-up feelings of anger and frustration, and you kill your loved ones in a rage or commit crime and murder against strangers for the thrill, fueled by the killer urge that surges up with the poison of alcohol that shoots through all the tissues of your body as if there were no separate walls of the organs within you, or makes you lose control of your limbs and mind so you run down people and crash into other cars in your own machine. Booze is a poison. Pot is a medicine and mild stimulant that makes your brain think, rather than go to sleep and lose conscious control, like booze.
Artur Rimbaud, the child genius of nineteenth century French poetry, smoked hashish in order to write and called it a systematic derangement of the senses. You let your dream mind lead the day mind. This puts you in touch with universal racial memory and cosmic symbol. Then your thought will be more than what your conscious mind knows or even thinks, meaning the prosaic facts of your life and conscious knowledge, whether learned from books or life. Then the dream world will lead you into the world of instinct and the senses and the unknown mysteries that surround you but you are not aware of when you are only just awake and not daydreaming.
I smoke pot to love, to follow my spiritual calling. I follow my spiritual calling by writing both creative and expository pieces like this essay. This is the way I can give and get the most love from the most people. I write because I want to contact the universal spirit of love in the most people. So writing is my way to reach out with love to people and touch them with my spirit of love. So writing and smoking pot both help me love. So I smoke pot and write. I smoke pot to write with love. I nearly always smoke pot to write. I have smoked pot to do this writing, but only after I have studied the question by reviewing all my books and notes on pot for any material that could add to this essay, seeking one hundred percent possible comprehension. Then based upon my study, I smoke pot, which allows me to leap into spontaneity and the free association of my thoughts, a stream of consciousness, which I tap by writing down my thoughts as I think them, all based upon voluminous study. This produces original thoughts that go beyond what is already known and written.
As soon as I smoke the pot, I begin to think. So I sit down at my laptop and write what I think. Pot frees the brain, lets it meander down its own path because it only puts the brain to sleep a tiny bit — not heavily like booze, which shuts out rational control — with only a slight buzz which makes you day dream, stay conscious and in control of your brain and body while you slip under the veil of daily awareness and perceive the world with the subconscious mind underneath the conscious mind with your conscious mind. So you now have the whole mind under control and functioning. You are now using your whole brain, not just the prosaic, socially-functioning part, but the cosmic world of symbol and surreal meaning in the subconscious part, too, which is called intuition. You are now on the level of the shaman who uses his great consciousness to see the hidden patterns of the subconscious and the hidden patterns in the forces of the world around him and put it to social use to help his tribe survive. My use is to write down what I see and reveal the pattern that I detect under the conscious level with my conscious command of the subconscious that pot has given me and put this writing into books that give people, that is society, a reflection of their own lives and times that has meaning. This is why I smoke pot.
Here’s a poem I wrote that captures this state of mind, this ability to see oneself while one is in the act of experiencing life and to understand at the moment that one is experiencing it what oneself is experiencing!
IN THAT LIGHT
I keep hearing my voice
now that I’m high
and my mind is floating
A sense of oneself
in the third person
like an insane man
or an artistic genius
at the height of his inspiration
under the hazy veil of hash
view myself by accident
suddenly hear my words
all the I’s &
what I did &
feeling very satisfied with myself
idling the time away
a calm in the storm
of what’s usually happening with me
until my voice reaches
the mind inside
where the light is &
the way to truth
in that light
how small and yet
I wrote this poem while I was trying through physical therapy to save the claw of my hand, which was broken and set in a cast to permanently cripple it by a Fascist doctor in Spain after I fought one of Franco’s agents in a park and knocked him out and went to the doctor to reset a misplaced knuckle. I put both the incident and the poem in my autobiographical novel, State of Emergency (Arte Publico Press, 1996) and in my book of poems, Color of My Living Heart (Arte Publico Press, 1996).
Then I have poems of joy, for one of which, “Trip to the County Fair,” I used pot to control the surge of feeling and surreal visions on acid. I had taken acid once before, only a couple of months earlier, in 1968, and had been unable to control the jerking of my body and make sense of the surreal and sometimes grotesque images that the acid made me see. This time, I smoked a pipeful of regular pot right after I dropped the acid and couldn’t stop writing all day long, while I went to the County Fair and saw a rodeo and a thousand people and a hundred horses and cows and bulls and wrote one of my most joyful poems of love. Pot gave me that control. Pot allowed me to think and make beauty out of the images and actions that I saw, experienced, captured and preserved that day.
TRIP TO THE COUNTY FAIR
Shack at the back of my yard
with your galvanized chimney
and your checkered door
from over here
on the steps of the back porch
in the shade
with the sun on my right toes
puffing out of your galvanized chimney
your wood slats
up to your door
through the yellow weeds
Great spray of soft cloud
in the blue sky
I’m high on acid and pot
and I’m talking to everything
It’s all the same
all the same
I can feel the wind on my cheek
and my bare chest too
Bob of thorned vines to the breeze
Herb Alpert and his Tijuana Brass
and miniature roses
the size of my pinky nail
next to the porch
and I want to kiss them
and tell them all sorts of things
The poem goes on for six more pages of ecstatic love, but is too long to repeat here. It’s also published in Color of My Living Heart. Immediately below is another example from my novel, State of Emergency, about a radical writer being tailed and manipulated by the CIA and Interpol in Europe who breaks from some Spaniards he believes are following and manipulating him and eats some hash candy and wallows in the ecstatic beauty of the Medina in Marrakech.
Really high off the hash candy, Roger turned in a circle in the Medina, looking for Tony, but couldn’t see anything but a blur of bright silken stands and multicolored flags. An old-fashioned market place, the Medina lay just between the newly paved streets and fancy sprawling homes of the French Quarter and the gates of the old walled city– a rusty colored, stone-walled fortress with gun turrets. The old city’s narrow cobblestoned streets curled like snakes in some labyrinthine puzzle away from the gates, toward the icy Atlas Mountains, which towered above the city like some great giant wall to keep out the Sahara Desert.
“Can you see him?” he asked.
Penny turned in a slow circle, too, and said, “Not anywhere.”
“I shouldn’t have flipped out at him,” Roger said, his eyes glazed from the candy. “He probably went straight to the mountains because I bumkicked him shouting about my hand. I’m sorry I yelled at him. I’d like to get along with some people sometime.”
Penny stepped right in front of him.
“You might have chased him away. He should have been here by now. He said he was just going to park the car.” She gripped both his arms. “But don’t worry about him; have fun, instead.”
“All right, to hell with him, then. I’m going to eat that other piece of hash candy he gave me, too, so I won’t have to worry about carrying it.”
She dropped her hands. “Maybe you better not, Roger.”
“I’m really tripping, it’s true,” he said, with a tremor of fear that Tony might have poisoned him like they did in Arguiniguin. “But I want to enjoy myself like you said. I feel like it now. For a change. Let the worries stir in their own juices.”
He pulled a cake of brittle, glass-like green candy out of his pocket and bit into it. He smacked his lips at the slightly bitter taste, like biting into an orange peel, then stuffed the rest in his mouth, crushed it with his teeth, and swallowed it quickly. Then he wandered off with Penny into the tent city of the Medina. As they walked through the narrow, curving, crowded, carnival tent streets of the market place, he was dimly aware that they had to catch a late afternoon bus back to Essaouerra, but was too entranced by the exotic place to care.
He stopped to buy some snails boiled in their shell, and used a safety pin the man gave him to pluck the gooey body out and pop it into his mouth. The man, in robes and baggy pants, a turban wrapped around his head, smiled and said, “Hubba-hubba,” then offered one to Penny. When she turned her face away with a scowl, he grinned again and said, “Fucky-fucky.”
Roger stared at him, wondering what he should do about it, but the guy kept grinning at him and offered him another snail, so Roger turned away when Penny said, “Forget it, Roger. Come on.”
He caught up with her. The colors of the stands and the silken finery and the multicolored handmade goods entranced him. He stepped with Penny along a sunny street where bright forty-yard strings of yarn were dipped in boiling black vats a story high of different colored dyes, the raw colors of the desert, bright red and green and yellow and purple and blue, then hung on ropes ten feet high to dry. Their shadows created a soft, picket-fence effect on the hard earth below them.
Roger stared as if he were high on acid, as if his whole body were a live receptor, as if he were taking everything in through all his senses at once. It was as if he could see the dazzling luminous glow that emanated from the bright silken colors of the stalls under the bright blue of the sky and feel its heat like an electrical field that touched him with its invisible force when he walked by, raising the hair on his arms.
He seemed to float through a section of small food stands, the fish scents touching his nostrils and filling the membranes of his nose with their tasty smells, making him stop by a smoking charcoal brazier of shishkabob with its simmering squares of beef impaled on sharp-pointed iron rods. He bought one each for him and Penny, who licked her lips in ecstasy as she ate.
Then they saw some young boys carving furniture with their hands and bare feet, one guiding a chisel with his toes while another hand-turned a lathe set on the floor. The pungent smell and dust of the woodshavings floated into the air. Roger stopped and watched them for a while with a pang of regret that the boy must suffer cramped toes. He then moved on and stopped next in a circle of people around a flute player in a long robe whose turbaned head swayed in graceful synchrony to the mournful reed call and the swaying necks of hooded cobras. Roger got so entranced himself that he didn’t realize he was swaying back and forth with the man and the cobras, too, until Penny said, “Roger!” and pulled him away from the circle of Moroccans staring at him.
Penny stared, too, when he stopped near a long line of blind men in burlap robes who held tin cups out in front of them, raising their blind eyes to the sky and chanting in a chorus for the mercy of the passerby and the glory of “Allah! Allah! Allah!”
He put a coin in the cup of each of the ten men in the line to thank them for the beautiful spectacle that they themselves couldn’t see. And though he floated in circles in the bazaar for hours, it seemed, sometimes finding himself at the same place more than twice, he kept coming back time after time to the blind men, as if they had some magnetic pull on him. He was conscious of it in the upper realms of his dream world, where the sights and sounds that bombarded his senses and exploded inside him had symbolic shape and form. He saw the myth of it, the archetypal blind man of all time standing like a reflection of himself in a line, with his cup out, in Morocco, in the Middle Ages, with time spanned for once, right there in front of him in the Twentieth Century, in melodic chanting sound and burning, living color. It was living Art, with a capital A. Roger was living art. If there had to be a heaven, it would surely be like this, pure sensation rippling out into infinity.
He heard a loud rumble of drums and looked for the source of the sound through his dark glasses. Reminded of old Hollywood movies of the thirties, he expected to see a scene from out of darkest Africa suddenly materialize around him. A large circle of people out on the wide asphalt field between the Medina and the gates of the Old City caught his eye. He could hear the clash of tambourines and the jingle of bells and, excited by the carnival atmosphere, he grabbed Penny’s hand and hurried over to the crowd.
He edged through the circle of people, sliding far enough into the crowd to see black tribal dancers in feathers and bells dancing in front of a row of black drummers and tambourine players. Just the glimpses of the high-stepping, black tribesmen slapping their bare feet against the pavement, bowing their backs in synchronized rhythm, baring their shaved skulls and black turbans to the bright sun, made his heart beat faster.
He felt a dizzying rush of blood to his head when he edged into the inner side of the circle and saw the bells on the dancers’ bare black toes and ankles, all over their black fingers and wrists, and strung across their bare black shoulders so that they jingled with every step, every jerk of shoulder and sway of hip, every quiver of hand. Standing behind them were a half dozen drummers and tambourine players and one white hippy in a white turban, who held a tambourine next to his ear and thumped it with the fingers of one hand.
A great buoyancy filled him, seemed to lift him up on his toes with a tingling feeling that crept over his scalp and every pore on his body, and he began to dance. too. He did a little foot shuffle while standing in one place along the inner edge of the crowd, then moved more and more until he was dancing almost frantically with every part of his body, keeping time with his shaking shoulders and his snapping hips and his stomping feet, shivering his hands in the air, as a blurred vision of black natives dancing to the drum beat, with much slapping of feet and ringing of bells and glittering of teeth and popping of tambourines and swaying of black robes and spinning of shaved skulls and shining of black skin filled every part of his being. It went on and on and on until he could barely hear Penny’s cry, like some far-off call: “Roger! Roger! It’s getting late! It’s time to go! Time to catch the last bus!”
The hashish produced an ecstatic space of time in which the sheer beauty of the Medina and its inhabitants made life beautiful and so unlike the aggressive urges and actions of a person high on alcohol. But it is the therapeutic essence of relief, the ability to make beauty out of sadness that enhances the experience of living itself that pot gives me that makes me continue to smoke it, when I choose to. Here is a poem on the death of a beloved dog in which I was able to vent my suffering and make beauty out of that suffering.
TO SERGIE MY SWEET OLD DOG
This is the reality now Sergie
this mound of earth
under the camelia bush
with a bouquet of orange poppies
alive at its foot
the shade that sprinkles it
even in the sunshine
There will always be sprinkles on this gravesite
summer or winter
raining or shining
I sprinkle it now with my tears
One of the poppies is dying though
The brown bud of a withered face
through the bent strands
of its petals
peeking up through the bent brim
of an old straw hat
though his bloom’s all gone
like yours was
these last two years
I suck in air to ease the cramp in my gut
Miki my Japanese puppy
nibbles some grass on your grave
A bird trill thrills me
from the big bush over your head
The sun warms me
The long branches of a thin plum tree
burst into beads of green buds
and rows of buttons of white flowers
spin like a fleet of flying suns
over the green clover
in the speckled shade
of a knobby pear tree
This is the reality
You down in the deep damp hole
The rain seeping into your ears
trickling through the fears
a slow movement
of flesh and bone
back to silt
back to the mud of my back yard
back to these earth clods
spongy with a whole night’s rain
This is my pain
This is the reality
hanging from a doorknob
red cross of its rabies tag
and green heart
of its license
a breeze on me
shadow of leaves
flickering on my page
no you around
on top of the ground
to sniff noses with
and earthy canine smell
The reality is
no trace of you
aside from this small mound of dirt
in the yard
and the warm coral
of my brain
in my chest
This is the reality
I use pot in a number of different ways. First of all is the immediate perception it gives me, which is very satisfying. I see into everything around me because I see everything around me in a clear light with fresh eyes. A movement of a loved one, my sweet Claire, will fill me with wonder at the beauty of her living being, here with me. Forever is only a second in cosmic time. This moment is ours forever, because the moment is forever if you perceive it, which we mostly don’t, and which I do, on pot.
Here’s a poem I wrote in Tijuana, Mexico the morning after I saw and wrote about, at the same time, under the influence of pot, a world championship bantamweight fight and all the other undercard fights as they happened, the whole evening. And the next day I didn’t have to write about what I saw because I’d already written it as I saw it with the clarity and the energetic impulse of pot, along with a beer or two. She had typed it for me the next morning and then wanted to go out and sight-see in Mexico. But I was tired from a long day of intense work the day before and wanted to rest. Finally, she began to get a little annoyed and began to complain so I got dressed to go. I had a hit of pot when I was ready and, as I put the pipe away, saw her sitting by the window of the motel with its charming Moorish style architecture, noticed the sun streaming through the Venetian blinds onto her thick, luxuriant, long and lovely hair, grabbed my notebook and wrote:
The light on your hair
lighter even than
This state of grace
I feel now
on your hair
and the light
going on in my brain
upon the surface
of exquisite blackness
The long dark
I also smoke pot whenever I commit a physical act in the afternoon or evening, but not in the morning when I usually go run a couple of miles, because I don’t like to smoke in the mornings when I have chores and editing to do.
On pot, in boxing, as in dancing, I turn on to the beautiful feeling of the blood warming my veins and the grace of my movements. I feel good dancing around in the ring, playing chess with my own body instead of wooden pawns. I think as I box. I figure the guy out and look for openings and how to make an opening, but I don’t have to think about how to do it. I don’t have to give a thought to how I do it because my body is on an instinctual level from the touch with the subconscious that the pot has given me. Now, alcohol can give you a physical boost somewhat, but it debilitates the body, taxes your energy, makes you tired, and the pot doesn’t. The pot does not stress any part of the body. Alcohol hurts the body, makes it pay for the temporary boost the booze caused by turning into energetic sugar in the veins. It’s like running a car on gas only with no oil. It’ll get you. The car will move for a while, but burn the motor out just as the body will tire quickly on booze. But pot doesn’t, because pot is not strong enough, and I mean any amount smoked for pleasure, to hurt the body. Most professional boxers I know smoke pot so they can relax a little without hurting their bodies, without getting out of shape.
In the ring, my body feels so good just moving around on the pot, a sense of grace comes over it. I mean physically graceful, not a god-touched, spiritual moment. I can sense the grace of my body’s movements, feel them within me as I move. Then, when I punch, I punch with fluid movement, quick and fast, instantaneous, loose, without effort, just flick it out, but when you just flick it out it increases the speed and increased speed makes the punch harder without you having to try harder. Think of an MGB moving a mile an hour. It will only touch you if it comes toward you with little force. This same MGB will kill you if it comes toward you at fifty miles an hour and obliterate you at a hundred miles an hour. Pot makes the body relax and lose its stiffness by slightly accelerating the blood pressure, which warms the body, and makes the limbs fluid, which increases the speed of the limbs and doesn’t tire the body, because strenuous effort is not put into the movement of the punch. If you don’t strain, you don’t get tired. So pot gives my body the relaxed fluidity to box better. But it also gives me an intuitive sense of the combat. That is, even though I look for openings, because I don’t have to think about how to do it, because it has become instinctual through training and pot, I can see and react to openings in my foe’s defense without having to consciously consider it. I’m in touch with my inner being and I’ve trained my outer being, my body, so that I’ll punch and not even know what punch I meant to throw and in the heat of the battle not even know what punch I knocked him down and out with. Training and pot make that possible. Pot adds an edge to the mind and the body. That’s why I smoke pot when I box.
But I also smoke pot when I go dancing, and for similar reasons, because of the looseness and flexibility of my body and the inner touch with the music and its beat. The pot allows my body to flow with the sound, to bounce with the sound, to trance with the sound and the movement of my body, similar to and akin to a Voodoo trance, though there is no loss of mental control. There is no loss of consciousness of any kind. Merely that the mind through the body gets to day dream while the body dances, but dream inspired by the movement of the body itself, the sense of grace again that inspires lovely feeling which becomes lovely thoughts running along a wave of body movement and spiritual ecstasy. I’m sure everybody has experienced this, but pot enhances it. This is why I smoke pot when I dance.
When I run in the afternoon, I have a hit or two and take off. It’s like meditation. My body is already warmed slightly by the pot, then gets warmer as the blood courses through it, which increases mental activity by spreading my blood through my brain. Pot, as I’ve said, also increases mental activity. So I think as I run. I try to solve certain problems, face them as I jog. The jogging becomes a spiritual activity because it brings a sense of satisfaction and well-being to my person, because I feel good being able to think about my problems in the privacy of the run. Remember the great English short story and movie, “The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner”? The runner is isolated on his run and has the privacy to think. So, the pot gives me pleasure separate from but akin to the act of running itself.
Also, too, I come in contact with nature on my run and when I run in the afternoons and smoke pot, I see the beauty of nature around me. This is in addition to the pleasure my body gives me and the pleasure I get from thinking on the run. This is why I smoke pot when I run in the afternoons. And, again, pot doesn’t wear the body down, so I don’t get tired and experience fatigue. I only experience pleasure from thought, the beauty of the world around me and the joy of using my body.
Then, there’s the matter of living by my wits. When I’m surrounded. The mail man. A neighbor. A burglar. A con man. A cop. A whore. I live on the edge because I smoke pot and have been and still am pursued by the police of many cities and countries, which is a hard cross to bear in my time. And I have to live by my wits. All the time. Prosaic facts surround me, but when I smoke pot I see under them and this helps me survive. I’m not a criminal. I’m not a taker. I’m a giver. I give, but I’m treated like a criminal because I smoke pot and I have to live by my wits. When I smoke pot all my cop problems become clear. I understand everybody’s behavior, like a novelist who understands the patterns of his character’s lives and minds. All this becomes clear. I see how people act. I sense when they’re pretending. I sense when they hide. Even when they’re good actors. That doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy myself in the situation with them or that I spy on them. I mean only that if there’s been anything false in their behavior, I’ll feel it either then or later and be able to evaluate it and try to understand it, on a conscious pot level, pursuing the problem, trying to look at it from different viewpoints, trying not to prejudge it, but pondering the question of the act that made me wonder and then trying to understand it without prejudging it from my own suspicious viewpoint.
I do judge it though if it fits a pattern of deceit that I’ve seen and known in other situations, with other people, and I then take steps to avoid that person as much as possible. Pot gives me this same ability to look at people’s characters as if I were a novelist writing about them. So, my training to be a writer and the natural insight that pot gives enables me to have the ability to study people as I interact with them. I watch as I interact. This springs from habits of the hunted, the fugitive, a state of mind where I’m alert, which, fine-tuned by the pot, makes the actions of the people I’m considering clear like a map. I note the acts and faces and voices of the speakers as they act and can place them, these items, in a pattern that I’ve already deduced, from being hunted, from writing about the behavior of my characters in books, and from being able to pierce the veil of daily existence with the help of pot. Pot does this. Pot gives finesse to my mind.
Here is an example of the intense mental activity that pot gives the hero of my novel, State of Emergency, when he samples some kif (Cannibus Sativa Indicus) on the island of Formentera in the Balearic Islands of Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. He knows he is being hunted and fears he may be set up when he buys a pound of high grade kif, and that fear coupled with the buzzing of his brain on the powerful pot makes him intensely aware and helps him to protect himself.
His hands felt as if they were melting together with the hash pipe, finger to knuckle to pipe stem to mouth tip to rim, and even the smoke curling mysteriously up from it looked like a flute trill he could hear from the full moon party in the distance.
A heightened sense of being came over him. He could feel it in his head, way up high at the top of his brain where a dizziness came over him, swept over his body, seemed to shorten his breathing, make him nauseous, separate him from his body, from his hands now holding the pipe far below him, from his knees and feet, too, so close yet so far away, as if under another light. The earthen floor at his feet was like a faded print of some impressionistic painting. The slight rises and hollows had a floating quality, like vaporous cloudy hills hovering over some rural landscape, medieval almost, which he walked over from a great distance, like some giant, as he made his way slowly, carefully, arms slightly spread for balance, towards the door of the adobe house, to get outside into the fresh air.
He seemed to drop a yard before he touched the hardpacked earth outside and had to brace one arm against the door jamb to stay up, then take deep breaths to keep the nausea down. He tried to stop the dizziness by focusing his eyes on the deep blue Mediterranean Sea under the moon, the ink blue sea.
He could see the sea in the other direction, too, between two low buildings, with pale clothes on the roof, with fences on them like iron bars. He could see the moon glimmering like a silky ribbon on the sea.
The moon was phosphorescent, a low molten fire. Even the flat fields of the low island were silvered by it.
A coolness came over the farmland, darkened with a cloud passing over the moon, creating hollows like rolling hills. Moonbeams passed through the shadow of darkness and quivered on his chest like leaves. A lighthouse blinked every other second or so on the dark sea beyond. He could hear dawn coming with a hum, a quiet shhhh in his head. He could hear water run: shhhhhhhhh. He stood there tingling, pipe still in hand. He hadn’t moved one muscle since he had stepped outside. He heard voices from the party and some girl’s name ending with a soft awww. He could hear his own voice, coming from some place away from him. He could hear it speak and the tones were urgent but calm: “I’ve got to keep a clear head or I’ll get busted. I’ve got to be able to see everything coming down around me, every gesture, every flicker of an eyelash, cross of an expression on a face. I’ve got to stay on top of it. Anne Marie is probably a plant. How could she dig me so much so soon? Robey could be playing any kind of game. I’ve got to stay on top of it! I’ve got to keep sharp and stay free and alive to finish this book! I’ve got to!
I’ll give one more example of what I consider the beneficial effects of pot in which I used it to relieve great anxiety caused by the death of a beautiful young woman I’d gone to grade school with. Her name was Dolores Rose. She was tall, about five and a half feet in the sixth grade. I was small for my age and a year younger besides, about a foot shorter than she was, and looked even smaller because I’d been skipped a grade. Though girls seemed to like me a lot, I never dreamed that she could until she wrote in my autograph book upon graduation: “Roses are red. Violets are blue. Sugar is sweet and I love you.”
Nothing ever came of it. I’d see her around in junior high and because we went to different high schools, I only saw her once more when some older guy from my school was chasing after her and she turned him down. I’d heard, though, that she’d gone to Hollywood to get in the movies like a lot of very pretty girls. Fifteen years later, when I was 29, and was getting a degree in Creative Writing at San Francisco State University, I read in the paper that she had committed suicide by drinking a gallon of lye, then driving her car off a cliff in Malibu, where all the rich movie stars live. When they reached her and carried her up the cliff, she fought them off and screamed, “Let me die! Let me die!” It took her a day and half more of intense suffering to die.
I was tortured by her horrible death, and when I went to sleep after studying another three hours after dinner, I had a nightmare in which she was dancing in a long, pale blue, formal gown to the Merry Widow Waltz, her long black hair flowing over her shoulders. She danced toward me and beckoned with hand for me to join her. She danced back and forth, beckoning to me, beckoning to me. But I wouldn’t join her.
The beautiful, tragic dance was in my head all the next day. I came home from working four hours at a freight-forwarding company as a bookkeeper, after spending three hours going to classes and four hours studying in the library at San Francisco State. I was exhausted and I was too devastated by her death and the death dance to study after dinner. I lay on my bed and suffered. I was married. I didn’t long for Dolores Rose like a lover. I just suffered over her death and wondered what horrible disappointment down there in the Hollywood jungle had hurt her so badly she killed her still young, beautiful self. But it was the dream that really haunted me and made me writhe internally. It was so beautiful in itself and so incandescent in my mind, I couldn’t do anything but just lay there.
Finally, I couldn’t stand it anymore and I jumped up and went to my desk and took out a joint of old-fashioned Mexican marijuana and smoked about half of it, still suffering over the haunting dream. Then, suddenly, something formed itself in my brain. It was an urge that I couldn’t see or understand yet. So, I turned to my typewriter and started writing, just following the vision in my head, trying to capture what I saw and felt of her dancing in the dream in words. But I had studied Rimbaud that Spring of 1960 on my own, trying to translate his poems in Illuminations into a logic that I could understand, and found it in the emotional meaning of his so disparate images, which then formed a logical, rational meaning. By tracing the emotional meaning of the images, I found the metaphors in his poems and understood not just what they meant in terms of feeling but in intellectual terms, too. I think that study of Rimbaud readied me for the incredible transformation of her beautiful, haunting widow’s dance into the following poem, which relieved my suffering by allowing me to make beauty out of the grotesque skeleton her body would become after death.
Out of a tent of wind
came a tuxedoed scarecrow
dancing for me
with hinged limbs of broom
whistling a dirge
through the bearded straw of his chin
His tongue was laughing black
His eye the shadow of crow
The silken knot at his throat
The strangled heart of a bow
His cane steps tapped their song
until I cried
that I could not dance
with the murmur
‘Till my toes had nails of bone
Joy came out of that suffering and became my first published poem, the joy of making something beautiful out of the suffering, which is evil to oneself, and the joy of seeing the beautiful something published and the joy of no longer hurting over it anymore and, instead, reveling, finally, in the accomplishment of making good out of bad. I studied hard in college and learned my craft the hard way by industry and dedication, but it was the pot that opened the doors to the beauty of the poem and the path to the alleviation of my suffering. This is therapeutic in a large sense. As a young art student, I used to shout out at parties: “There is no God but Pod.” Pod was a term for pot in those days. The term pot came to be, I believe, as a way to fool the cops who already knew that marijuana looked like and was called tea, so people started calling it pot instead of tea to fool them, and the name stuck, though the cops knew all about what it meant, of course. But I knew then, though I only smoked it on Saturday nights, I was so busy working and going to school, that it held out a world where I could be sensitive and thoughtful and good to other people and to myself, that it fueled my imagination and soothed my feelings, and gave me a burst of energetic human warmth and industry that could be channeled into an art form that would uplift and benefit myself and humanity. “They would not find me changed from him they knew, only more sure of all I thought was true,” Robert Frost wrote in “The Road Not Taken”. And that applies to me now in my deep middle age. I’m in very good physical shape with the body of a much younger man because, I believe, that I smoked pot instead of boozing it up all my life.
California passed the medical marijuana initiative in 1996 and I’ve benefited from that fact. I was able, for a while, before a federal court shut it down a couple of months ago, to go to downtown San Francisco and buy my pot at a counter of a public building on Market Street. I hope to be able to do that again. I do believe though that soon, maybe, someday, for sure, the whole country will realize the benefits of this mild stimulant which has made my life rich in terms of my profession as a writer and as a person.