Mujer ángel—Angel Woman. I'd known Graciela Iturbide's photography for far longer than I'd thought when first her name was mentioned to me. The ghetto blaster in the right hand, the arms spread out on either side, the billowing skirt and that long mane of straight black hair. That very same image was used for the cover of a 1997 Rage Against the Machine single—Vietnow. She's been quoted as calling it her favourite shot, an unexpected gift from the desert. An unremembered dark room surprise. The Sonoran wilderness a vast and sudden astonishment behind the caves and crags. The camera is low, as if the photographer scrambles on her knees, struggling to keep up. The hair is so long. It's so straight. I call her Angel Woman—she looks as if she could fly off into the desert. I met Iturbide at an exhibition in Puebla and she wore what looked like knee-high Converse boots and told me she'd go to Ireland if I were to bring her. She signed a copy of El baño de Frida. In 2005, Frida Kahlo's bathroom, where many of her dresses and other personal items had been stored for 51 years after her death, was unlocked and Graciela was asked to photograph the items for a week. Demerol, a toy turtle, portraits of Stalin, medicinal corsets. In the Juchitán market, right down in the isthmus, a woman approached selling iguanas. She carried them on her head. This was the other image that I'd loved for years without knowing its author. The shot she marked for use was the only one in which the woman kept a straight face and the iguanas, tired of squirming, stuck their heads up and out. Proud reptiles of stone. The locals took to the image, calling her La Medusa de Juchitán. There's even a statue of her in the town centre. But that Angel Woman in the desert—that's the shot. The perfect shot. Emma Zunz by Borges. Talpa by Rulfo. All the elements, though we don't know what they are. Maybe it's the few ribbons of hair that have breezed out from her left flank. Some of the strands stuck to her arm creating a film. A wing. A translucent pipistrelle membrane. 1979 was the year. The Seri Indians from the northwest of the republic. A snippet of land on the edge of the desert and a couple of rocks in the sea. Isla Tiburón—Shark Island. That's their territory.
The mountains of Tiburón were very black against the stars and the sea was calm. The Seri might be cannibals, Steinbeck thinks. He and the crewmembers have heard stories. They anchor close to the shore and gather specimens at a place they call Red Point Bluff. Cucumbers and anemones. Famished with hunger they scan the sparse coastline and joke about gobbling a cannibal themselves. The one who got in the first bite would have had the dinner, but we never did see a Seri. The author had embarked on a six-week marine-specimen collecting expedition alongside his friend Ed Ricketts, immortalised as Cannery Row's marine biologist 'Doc'. Heliasters and urchins. Without this expedition we wouldn't have that novella, a story he heard in and around the cantinas of Kino of the unfortunate finder of The Pearl of the World. Together they explore the littoral zones of the Sea of Cortez and one evening, not far from Isla Tiburón, on the deck of The Western Flyer, their 'Sea Cow', the crew find themselves whelmed by a flapping dusk of fleshwings. Sparky, a shipmate with a fear of bats, swings his harpoon at the cloud and, having sunk a barb through one of them, is attacked by four or five as he runs for cover. The impaled bat drops slap upon the waters and is later retrieved. Sparky promises to never mention this event to the folks back home in Monterey but will later boast of how he harpooned a flying bat. They don't know what type of bats they are but they want them to be vampires. A bitten man with rabies may have been the mythical werewolf of the past, Steinbeck muses. The bats leave suddenly, fleeing back to land as one organism, silent and black. Vampire. Prior to crossing the sea from Baja California to Sonora, Steinbeck and Ricketts, while stationed at Puerto Escondido, were invited to take part in a hunting adventure by a local rancher. They were to hunt the famous Bighorn Sheep. They failed to even spot one, very rare on the mainland. Had they met their imaginary Seri-cannibal, had the Seri invited them to go hunting, this time not for sheep but for a toad, the Bufo Alvarius, things might have been very different.
5-MeO-DMT. 5-methoxy-N,N-dimethyltrytamine. DMT. 5-HO-DMT,N,N-dimethylserotonin. Bufotenin. Foxy methoxy. Yagé. Ayahuasca. The spirit molecule. The third eye. The densest grey smoke I've ever inhaled. In 2014 Alejandro Mendoza travelled to the now uninhabited Isla Tiburón to take part in a religious ceremony. He would smoke dried bufotenin in a controlled environment, in the presence of a doctor, in the presence of a shaman. The substance to be obtained by squeezing the pimply glands of a toad. Bufo Alvarius. In 1962, twenty-two years after Steinbeck's visit to the area, a toadspotter named Malkin claims to have found the Sonoran Desert Toad on Isla Tiburón. It seems he almost certainly mistook Bufo Punctatus, a red-spotted toad, for his neurotransmitting cousin. The toad stays hidden most of the year but comes out to play in the aftermath of the brief Sonoran rainy season. So, if Steinbeck had been invited on a psychoactive toad-hunt he would almost certainly have needed to head for the mainland and wait for the rains to fall. Mendoza was in the area for a story for Vice Mexico. Despite also resulting in a YouTube video with a typically sophomoric Vice headline—Getting High with a Hallucinogenic Toad Prophet—his Spanish language article is respectful of the Seri, of the shaman, of the most powerful hallucinogen known to mankind. He travels with a doctor named Octavio Rettig out into the desert to look for the toad. Rettig squeezes the glands, collects the secretions and they head back to Hermosillo. The next day they drive out to Punta Chueca, an autonomous Seri community near the sea. There he sees the devastating effects of narcotics on the local youths. Crystal meth. Unceremonial and syntheic. Its destruction to be seen on the streets and pavements, in the eyes of young men. Rettig studies the toad's secretions, uses it medicinally and campaigns for the protection of the Seri and the protection of the toad. Mendoza is introduced to various young men who have escaped addiction to crystal after smoking the dried bufotenin. What does it feel like? That cannot be explained, you need to experience it yourself. After a small dose on the mainland Mendoza travels the next day out to a silent Tiburón and smokes the thick greyness as the evening sinks into the calm waters of the Sea of Cortez. The sun enters his being through every dilated pore. Unrelenting orgasms of light followed by a writhing sense of fear. The shaman is on hand to comfort. The four winds of the planet are shaking you awake. Let it happen.
I read about a drug called yage, used by Indians in the headwaters of the Amazon. Yage is supposed to increase telepathic sensitivity.
Orizaba St. Number 10. Burroughs in Mexico City. A large and crumbling residential house painted green. On the counter an unnaturally blue coloured peach flavoured liquor. Shrivelled fruit. Watery American coffee. This is the house where he wrote Junky and maybe also Queer. Not where he shot his wife dead. Ship Ahoy. That's close by.
Kick is seeing things from a special angle. Kick is momentary freedom from the claims of the aging, cautious, nagging, frightened flesh. Maybe I will find in yage what I was looking for in junk and weed and coke. Yage may be the final fix.
His wife dead. His heroin habit almost extinguished. Yagé gives Burroughs nothing but pain and hallucinations. No telepathy. Unaccumulated orgones. Time to do something. Time to start writing. This time for real.
I believe The Spirit Molecule is now available on Netflix. I still haven't seen it. I can't see it. Not now. I know too much about it. Three different people I've met have seen it and have talked about it with the enthusiasm of a recently converted cult member. They all told me the same things. The pineal gland. The hagfish doesn't have one. Most other creatures do. Above the cerebellum. Behind the pituitary gland. We're born with it. DMT lives there. When someone is close to an agonising death the compound is activated and they die in peace. Near death trips to heaven and back can be attributed to DMT activation. Transcendental meditative states of euphoria may be caused by extensive training of the third eye, generally imagined to be located just behind the pituitary gland, just above the cerebellum. I was looking for mushrooms in the rainy season. There were none left. What's DMT? When I was told I knew that I'd have to try it. But there was one problem.
No, I do not have a crack pipe. Well, you need one and I just sold my last. Is there no other way to do this? Well, I've heard you can use a lightbulb. I was up in San Juan del Océano with a friend called Sitric. The mist and the wood fire smoke meant visibility was low that night. On the way up to Antonio's cabin a rumble in the skies and a drastic downpour. The altitude meant breathing was tough on the way up the hill. Oxygen had to be actively sought out and consciously devoured. I looked up into the night sky and rainwater pooled in my opened mouth. We heard a dog bark and the massive sound of some kind of electric whip crack. The sparks through the forest, through the rain curtains. The dog lay dead. An electrical mast had fallen and a live cable squirmed like a mechanical eel that crackled and twisted in the forest setting briefly aflame the chopped wet logs. We would need to stay up at the cabin until the sparks died down. I didn't expect to encounter any problems finding the little psilocybin stems at that time of year but Antonio had none left and wasn't feeling well enough to go find more. Not for a few days he said. Sitric had been excited about the mushrooms and I was embarrassed to have let him down. Antonio said he had loads of weed, some opium and some DMT. Sitric's eyes lit up and he gave me the whole spirit molecule spiel. We had to try this. We had to. Some weed too. I said okay. We rented a room and I covered myself in woollen blankets and lay down in a hammock. We smoked some of the weed. I felt tired. Little thin strips of transparent amber. Like orange boiled sweets sucked almost to extinction and stored for posterity. I've heard the clear crystals are the purest, the strongest. The amber or yellow colour points to a lack of purity I've been told. No ayahuasca and no toads for us. This was all synthetic. Some time later we got the fire going and the cabin glowed. We sat on Van Gogh wooden chairs and stared at the table. One lightbulb we'd taken from the bathroom and the little shards of amber. We tried to caress the bottom contact from the glass. The tungsten filament quivered. I tried to unscrew the metal base from the bulb. Nothing happened. We'll have to break it we both knew. A light tap on the side of the table. Nothing. A stronger tap. The bulb broke into pieces and I inhaled some of its glassy dust. We repeated the process until one bulb remained. Okay, so no matter what, this is the one. Tap tap gently does it. The bulb lay cracked on the floor. The metal base was removed but the orifice was jagged, dangerous and, crucially, porous. Is this going to work? Doesn't matter. I'm not taking this through the military checkpoint in the morning. You've got a bit of plastic paper haven't you? Sitric went first. I held the bulb and the lighter's flame beneath it. We'd stuck plastic paper to the mouthpiece and Sitric tried to inhale. I could see the smoke escape into the night. Nothing. Not even a smile. Next up. I wrapped my lips around the serrations and felt the plastic and glass with my lips. A smell I can't explain. Most of the smoke escaped through the cracks but I felt some punch my lungs. Lightly. Out to the hammock to lie down and look at the only two stars between invisible clouds. A smirk. Wouldn't it be funny if I wanted this so badly to kick in that I started imagining those two stars were the eyes of a jaguar. One of those Huichol jaguars made from the multi-coloured beads glued to wooden shapes. And the jaguar's face did appear. Had I willed it into existence? Was I working too hard to conjure a journey? I recognised this kind of self-reflexive, self-interrogative semi-euphoria. I'd had it with mushrooms, had it with peyote, had it with alcohol. The jaguar smiled and then it began. There was no all-engulfing visual phantasmagoria. No orgasm of light and shapes. Just happiness. This was a light dose of low-purity. A smile to a chuckle and a chuckle to a guffaw and my ribs hurt and shook and my eyes watered and I couldn't tell if they were tears or raindrops that made my vision bleary and I laughed out loud and laughed again and drooled and laughed some more. Joy was real and there and was inside me, was me. I don't have a body I am a body. I said four words—I'm just so happy. I'm just so happy. Then a fear. A fear that my lungs were going to come out my mouth. A real fear. I could see them on the floor in front of me. Control yourself. Time to stop this. Will this to stop. With concentration and silence I took myself by the hand and led myself back to rain, back to the forest, back to the wooden surface of the floor beneath my bare feet. It all lasted about forty seconds to a minute. From the happiness to the fear to a sense of calm. If I do this again it will be on Isla Tiburón, my skin touching the sands of a rock that broke off the desert and floated out into the sea. Up the hill through the trees and into my bones I felt a coldness and began to shake. The four winds of the planet. I allowed them to happen.