The Shaman’s Initiation
The ring was spun down the spirits’ road,
A strand of silk
Strung from tree to tree.
I lay in a furrow, covered
With petal and stalk: the chanting began.
I grasped the ring’s heart as it came down the road.
A spirit leapt up; pressed me
Into its luminous shell.
It pierced my navel, lodging a seed
At the base of my spine.
I rose up nine ladders of yet-to-fall rain;
Drew beam-laced feathers
From the moon’s crest.
My teacher’s drum drew me back: the ring
Again took the road. A new spirit
Seized me in its talons.
We pressed through jagged, bucking vines;
An enormous blade
Swung open and shut.
I fell to the edge of a pool, white-hot stones
Churning at my feet.
The spirit thrust the hottest of these
Through my skull: the burning
Cleansed my dreams.
My teacher’s drum drew me back: down
Came the ring; a third spirit
Tore off my robe.
Cradled naked in its paws, I was raised
To horizon’s outer-most band,
Where I found a cap, coat, and belt.
A seven-stepped rainbow encircled me
As I donned these gifts. The spirit
Wove me a mask
From strands of cloud and soil
Swirling in its pelt;
From star-bright ribbons
Raising from its horns.
It beat its mane against my tongue: My mouth
Filled with light.
I began to shape words as spirits do.
Again, my teacher’s drum: I woke
In the limbs of a tree; silk strands
Entwined my naked waist; an iron ring
On my finger,
A drum of my own
The Shaman Rises from the Waters of Death
As keel was freed from sand and stone,
My beak twisted free
From a stilled face.
None could see this; all believed.
When the craft cradling me
Reached the horizon, those on shore
Knew I’d rise; wing
From bark to starry branch.
I pushed my prow beneath whitecaps
As the moon
Began its chant.
My talons grasped rungs of light; what had bound me
I watched as my next body
Began to pulse
From sea to womb.
Joseph Murphy’s poetry has been published in a wide range of literary journals, including The Ann Arbor Review, Northwind and The Sugar House Review. He recently had collection of poems published, Crafting Wings (Scars Publications, 2017); his second collection, Having Lived, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books (2018). Murphy is also senior poetry editor for an online literary publication, Halfway Down the Stairs.