948: Willing in the Orisha

948: Willing in the Orisha

948: Willing in the Orisha

Today’s episode is guest hosted by Shira Erlichman.


I’m Shira Erlichman and this is The Slowdown.

The exact moment I realized I needed to hospitalize myself, it was late at night, and I was in the throes of an emergency. I had to pack fast. I grabbed a light bag and filled it with some clothes, a Rumi poetry collection, and a small stone Buddha. The clothes made sense. The book, too, made sense––a way to pass the time inside the hospital. But the second I placed that small stone Buddha in my bag, I was doing more than packing.

I was enacting a ritual, a spell, a hopefulness. What made this a ritual? Was it the inclusion of something that could be deemed excessive, elusive, woo woo? I was in the grip of a manic episode, the ceiling tiles literally slithering, but some hidden logic told me: take the small stone Buddha. It was cool in my hand as I slipped it in my bag. Soothing, even.

I found myself in the PTSD ward of the mental hospital; my small room with its foreign bed and barred windows contained very little of home. I sat the stone buddha upright on the bedside table. I collapsed to the scratchy rug, exhausted, traumatized, battered. Alone, I opened my book at random. I vividly remember the poem which presented itself to me for its sharp and mothering clarity: Rumi’s “Bird Wings,” an homage to balance.

My head spinning, his words buttered my sanity: “Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes. / If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. / Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, / the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birdwings.”

My body was on high alarm, either working desperately to alert me to danger or to shut me down. I took the small Buddha, closed and opened my palm around it, feeling my aliveness.

Do we reach for ritual to melt paralysis? I think of my manic-self packing that bag. She knew she needed more than the practical: a shirt, some socks. She needed grounding. Do we reach for ritual when our personhood is fragmented, or lost to us? I think of my traumatized-self sitting on that rug, commiserating with a Sufi poet, a cool Buddha in the palm, trying to find a road back to myself.

Today’s poem explores the daring act of ritual. I love it for how it openly pleads with God, and self, and circumstance. I love its decision to move toward incantation, toward worship.

Willing in the Orisha
by Camonghne Felix


         My body a full echo I dawdle down to the creek

                       Ask the god of blood for
                       abundance	       continuity

                                        My offering	      the syrup of pressed beans &

a seven-winged tulip


         Later the rains swell the creek with coffee      the storm     a 
beckoned sheet
  The immortal herself reaping the earth           the tongues cut out of 
                                                            the cows


         I walk in		    as the wash	        attempts its valiant swallow of
           A cafeteria aid			              wipes the cotton from the 

       Her bald eyes			                       aurora with	       seeds

                  You brought that		       didn’t you?


                            My bottom lip a pink venom    My desire a 
                            with legs

                            Every now & then a troubled thirst
                            opens my mouth for a song that does not come
                                                              I feel it all
                                    until a fixed voice decides

                                           No              but wait              you’re the water

“Willing in the Orisha” by Camonghne Felix from BUILD YOURSELF A BOAT © 2019, Camonghne Felix. Used by permission of Haymarket Books.