Datura wrightii

Sacred datura

Cybele Knowles



When I read that sacred datura

            datura wrightii


            thorn apple


            moon lily


was/is believed to be a magical plant

            by Aztecs Chumash Zuni Jivaros Yaqui Tohono O’odham and more


taken/given as a sacrament by religious authorities

            exumas 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

            right away

            of course


because I wish to be wise

            for me

            wisdom is more than a wish--

            it’s becoming an urgent need,

                        but that’s a story

                        for another time


My friends and family

knowing I lack wisdom

grow concerned.

“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

it works:

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

and Rumi

            who has lots of suggestions

            although he can be annoying:

            feel the shoulder of the lion, he says

            that’s crazy!

            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


after datura,

hawkmoths stagger,

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?


I find sacred datura flowering

in my neighborhood

near my apartment

between the sidewalk and the street:

street, sidewalk, apartment, and neighborhood

all laid down on top of the desert

datura’s native land

I cut a long white bud

and put it in a glass

in the evening when I’m reading

the bud unfurls

fused-5-petalled flower

releasing the scent of lemons


months later

I’m thinking about something I read

and I remember:



of course I am not alone

if I am hawkmoth

then my sacred datura is                               language

            pages are my petals

            words are leaves

            meaning is nectar

            we coevolved: I/us and

            our continual beneficent intoxicating language





Cybele Knowles writes essays, stories, and poems. Her work has appeared in The Diagram, Pindeldyboz, Asian Pacific American Journal, Faucheuse, and The Prose Poem. She lives in Tucson and works at the University of Arizona Poetry Center.