KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 8: August 2017
Haibun: 718 words

RIP Shaman Bobby Ray

by Alexis Rotella

Plywood houses seem to pop up overnight. A long fence separates the Greenthumbers from the Roundup crew, the people who farm from the fast foodies who don’t know where the fries on their plate come from.

Bobby the shaman, a recovered alcoholic, who did time in jail for drug trafficking, says those years in prison were just what he needed to set him straight. He turned a parking lot into a garden that felt like everyone’s home; in each row a surprise, poppies blowing in the wind, irises that look like dowagers at a charity ball, pink globes of allium hovering like UFOs while hummingbirds tune funnel flowers and figs grow fatter than late-summer frogs. Crows talk to the corn and Bobby is fluent in crow-speak. He grows vegetables for the café next door: arugula, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash blossoms, and sunflowers that bow in late summer like grateful refugees.

Every Sunday morning people flock to the bowl-ringing ceremony where the air is thick with copal and sage, so dense the people in the room become invisible. The didgeridoo, the handmade wooden flutes, the heart rhythm of hoop drums and turtle shells rattle the sadness, cancers, heart disease, and the isolation of feeling alone in a world where clouds aren’t clouds, where apples aren’t apples anymore. With a sage bundle, Bobby smudges each person to clear away their ancestral karma and the patterns that keep them stuck.

Women who’ve lost their hair sit on the front porch to gaze at the 200-pound crystal that rests among sage and spearmint. Men who’ve lost hope come together to watch a young man in white jeans offer a salutation to another Sunday while termites silently eat away at the foundation of the shaman shack.

A white tipi looms
above the greenhouse
last of the local color fades

Kids bored with bouncing balls on tarred driveways decide to throw gravel at the crystal but before any clusters crack, Bobby, in his beekeeper’s attire, points as if he’s ready to let go an arrow. He doesn’t say a word, this man from another world whose mother, Aurora Borealis, once chastised him in Cherokee for misusing peyote and picking fights with the whites. But behind the wooden fence that separates the shaman from the world of ticky-tack, the neighbors squawk like jays, wishing upon their bottles of beer that the shack, the garden, the Sunday chanting and weird sounds would just go away.

A white moth
scents itself
in the lavender

Bobby feels his days are numbered, that his magic is fading back into the world of spirit. He’s too tired now to answer the crows or even to look at them cross-eyed. It’s a mild winter and even more houses are going up. There’s more hammering in the neighborhood than drum beats. Bobby’s sense of humor wanes, his shoulder aches, the cancer returns, the pacemaker falters, and it isn’t long before his partner also senses he’s dying. Together they spend two long weeks in ICU delirium where he finally forgets how to swallow. Bobby returns home with a feeding tube to spend the next four days of his life with the woman who can’t technically be called a widow, who’ll continue to clean houses without Social Security or any other benefits. In their bed covered with Indian blankets, rabbit pelts, and deer hides, Bobby takes his last breath.

Leaving behind
a trail of moonlight
the snail

You can’t con a con, he had told me one afternoon as he demonstrated a new gadget for separating chamomile flowers from their stems. And now, I see his black pickup in the driveway as he walks toward my door with an armful of corn. I show him my latest collage where a flower wears the face of a woman. There he is, pointing out the night jasmine behind the woodpile and asking me to take a whiff. I remember how, after Hurricane Sandy, a red hen had blown into the shaman-shack yard, how every morning it laid an egg while cozying up to its new friend, Bobby’s angora cat. I go through stacks of photos and there he is in baggy jeans, smiling with my husband who offers a branch with five golden-ripe persimmons.

From a faraway chimney
the scribble
of smoke

Robert (on the left) with Shaman Bobby Ray, photographed by Alexis Rotella
Photograph by Alexis Rotella. All rights reserved.


Alexis Rotella
Issue 8, August 2017

is an award-winning poet and digital artist who has been writing Japanese poetry forms in English for more than 40 years. She has been appointed 2017 Judge for the Ito-en Haiku Grand Prize Contest in English. Her work has been published throughout the world, and she is the author of dozens of books. Her latest paper books, between waves and The Color Blue, were recently published by Red Moon Press. Her out-of-print haiku and tanka books, as well as her newest works, can be read on Kindle. A licensed acupuncturist, Alexis practices in Arnold, Maryland.

Author’s website, where her art is for sale: Alexis Rotella Designs

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