There was one night during that first summer, the air thick enough to cut with a razor blade, and humid – loud with the singing of cicadas, the buzz of mosquitos and the whole wealth of tropical wildlife echoing down from the trees. A reminder from the jungle that civilisation is just a blip in time. They headed into the city for a drink. It was the beginning of the rains, the streets shone with automotive electric blaze and the atmosphere crackled with static. They found a street just as the bars were waking up; where the night shift of peacocks would strut, and some of the city’s 10,000 musicians began to hit their pay dirt.
Then the rains fell suddenly and hard, usurping the light from strings of coloured bulbs and the candle lit booths, with explosions of thunderous sheet lightening. Breathtaking in its power, dropping rain like liquid pebbles that smashed into their skin and hair and eyes, plastering their shirts to the skin in seconds. It had been hovering for days this storm and as it finally landed, it threw human preoccupations into chaos and washed them down the drains.
They sheltered in the first bar they found, which turned out to be a haunt of fellow travellers, the pejorative term for anyone sympathetic to a left wing cause; a motley crew of writers, bar-room philosophers, and deviants of all colours. Young Polonski was on edge, surrounded by the enemy; but conversely he saw an opportunity to gather intelligence. He waited, and drank, and watched, and took note.
In the jostle to escape the rains, they meet this intense dark-suited American; a scrawny hipster with black-rimmed glasses and a journal. He calls himself a poet but Polonski marked him as a well-heeled bum; travelling the continent on a trust fund while the rest of the world was busy rebuilding the damage of war, brick by brick. He introduces himself as Bill; and Polonski distrusts the man on principle, but Bohm is thirsty for conversation…
You want to know where I’m at? The Yage Experience, man. That’s what I’m chasing… You know? The Holy Vine…?
Bill is clearly high and excitable; distracted by the vivid memories of his recent adventures deep in the Ecuadorian rain forest, living with indigenous Indians, and acquainting himself with their occult ceremonies.
The young Polonski suspects there’s something certifiable about their new poet friend. He listens with growing animosity, but Bohm remains fascinated. Bohm is genuinely entranced, chipping in with anecdotes and theories that seem to validate Bill’s experience.
It seems that Bill, who’s full name is William Burroughs, had been addicted to heroin and sought the Secoya Yage Ceremony as a cure. So he hooked up with an old Harvard buddy, some renowned ethnobotanist and Amazonian explorer called Richard Shultes (Polonski makes a note of this name too) and they went in search of the legendary Yage: an emerald green vine that grows double-helix shaped coils around the rain forest trees.
Several days march through virgin jungle to the banks of the Rio Aguarico, and to this tribe of original humans, whose culture is based on communion with heavenly creatures that live along the river and in the sky.
Yage is the purge, and the vine of souls; in the rain forest it goes by the name of Ayahusca the Mother of the jungle. The Shaman are its commissioners. Dressed in white tunics decorated with beads, elaborate headpieces made from bird feathers; full of ancestral knowledge granted by the vine.
Bill is told his problems go deeper than the heroin; his addiction is an outer manifestation of fierce trouble. He’s burdened with a psychic disease, attributed to the nascent western syndrome of the empty self: our religion of destruction and insatiability.
Young Polonski can’t hold his tongue. The American Dream is not an affliction, you commie beatnik fuck... He can’t tolerate disparagement of the country that saved his life. This rejection of decent society is a jaundiced misanthropic cop out. And Bill, cranky after ten days of heroin withdrawals, loses it. The Yage helped him go cold turkey but he’s ragged, and on the edge of social tolerance. He snarls his words, where else in the world could this happen? Where else does a society exist, where a bunch of wise old dudes would stay up all night for days on end, singing incantations, to guide you through the spaceship travels of your sub-conscious?
Polonski makes a snide face, and Bill’s rebuttal hits a crescendo: Why? You want to know why they do this? To reveal the wretched conditioning of your psyche, to heal your innate self-destruction! They see through the veil of ego illusion, they inhabit both worlds. They know! This is an act of compassion my uptight little friend, pure fucking compassion!
Bohm doesn’t react to the vehemence of Bill’s words. Instead, he picks up on the phrase the spaceship travels of your sub-conscious, and began to riff with it. Polonski remains silent for the rest of the night. He feels abandoned; even though he and Bohm are political enemies, he assumed they were both rational men. He can’t believe the Doctor of Science is now entertaining the mystical ramblings of a self-confessed drug eater.
The legend is that drinking Yage will purge the body of all disease. So they sit together, sheltering in a vast thatched lodge where all the villagers sleep at night in one ship of safety. They pass the noxious red hooch around the circle. The Shaman blow Datura smoke in their faces, they sing improvised melodies, they spray water on them. They watch and guide these rookie ayahuasqueros towards the Mother. But before the light show begins there is a purging, which is physical, graphic and violent. The drink tastes like forest rot, and the visions are only earned after hours and hours of vomiting, shitting and fever sweats. Like you’ve been poisoned. But once done, according to the Harvard man, the vine moves like an alien intelligence, surging through you, examining the body at a cellular level and making subtle adjustments to its physiology.
Not everyone earns the visions. Some just get the purge. Of those called to the Yage, not all are chosen; some have to settle for poisonous toxic vomiting and the shits. But Bill had been granted the insight: the consciousness of the forest had deigned to meet him face to face...
Young Polonski has had enough. He can’t take any more of this hipster narcotic-whimsy. He stands to leave, turns to Bohm to bid him farewell; but Bohm doesn’t notice. Bohm is erupting in a flurry of enthusiasm for Bill’s story. Polonski has no choice but to wait for a civilised pause before he can leave with his dignity.
So Bill… you have a plant that allows a glimpse into The Mystery. Yes? Because this is what we’re discussing isn’t it? The Mystery! Don’t you see? This is what science is talking about too, but you have taken your search from a very different angle, using remarkably different procedures and protocols… But the aim is identical. You have heard of Watson and Crick, I’m sure, two British scientists who recently discovered the structure of the DNA molecule. It is a snake-like string of coded data, full of information. A double helix! The same shape as your vine that reveals the answers…
There’s something captivating about Bohm when he’s fired up. He can’t match Bill’s volume or anger, but he has more charisma because of it. He’s informed. Excited. Tangential. And non-stop. Polonski sits back down, settles in for the evening as Bohm surmises that the vine and the society who worship it must have evolved side by side. For the Secoya to have such knowledge of rain forest chemistry there must be some form of communication; some sentient connection between the plant and the human.
Bill starts to laugh, that’s how they tell it; that is exactly how they tell it, they believe they have learned everything from the plant itself.
Bill is laughing because the scientist is talking like a medicine man.
Bohm suggests that the plant-human interface could be DNA itself: common to all life, and imprinted with information that is passed from cell to cell via photon emission, creating a global network of spectral energy.
They call it the mind of the forest, says Bill… but if there is a collective sentience in the natural world, it must be working beyond the range of instrumentation, or you bastards would have found it, and be making money out of it…
Bill believes he’s snookered the scientist.
Bohm says, but absence of evidence, must not be confused with evidence of absence.
Bohm is ahead on the banter. He enjoys his erudition.
We are all immersed in a memory field of spectral information, even now as we speak, we are submerged in information-energy from the consciousness of the atoms to the television programmes that are being blasted through us in Portuguese, which is a language I haven’t quite mastered yet I’m sorry to say. But you know all of this alludes to the paper I have been writing, regarding my new interpretation of quantum mechanics. The world is causal, yes? Things happen for a reason. I push something and it moves, yes? And evolution, that too is causal. There are cellular mutations, which lead to diversity, but that diversity must lead to success or the genetic line will not prosper. So you see there is a cause, and there is an effect. So it is not quite by chance that your visionary vine has evolved alongside people who know how to use it. Therefore it is not by chance that humans have discovered a botanical portal into the so-called spiritual aspect of our existence…
It was on this particular night in Centro, in the old quarter of Sao Paulo, on a dimly lit side street off Prada da Se, during a spectacular tropical storm that Young Polonski began to question the assumptions of his life. Coming at him like a slow motion lightening bolt revelation, on a percussive wave of samba that stretched way back to West Africa; on the horns, the swinging hips and the swilling tequila of that particular night, Polonski realised he was fighting for the wrong side. He’d lived through the Holocaust; and to make sense of the world, he clung to scientific proof as the only truth, and financial security as the goal. But Brazil was so carefree! It was so bright. So La-La-La!!! It sparkled! The people around him seemed to sparkle, and connect with something deeper than flag waving and empire building; for there is a Mystery, and one so credible it can be discussed by drug-astronauts and theoretical scientists alike, then the rigid assumptions that Polonski has based his adult life on must be flawed. It was at this moment his personality began to cleave in two.
The year is 1954, and The Cold War is in full swing, but that night Polonski felt the entire world was beginning to swing, from black and white to Technicolor; and he realised that Bohm wasn’t the enemy. He was a humanitarian, a visionary, and criminally misjudged.