For days I drive by them.
I set up camp,
think of them.
Fleshy shrubs—steely-green and
rigid at midday,
swaying in dusk under
moonshadows larger than homes.
In Taos Plaza, I leaf through a book
about how to harvest sage.
This is a sacred plant that must be honored.
First, the book guides, go where the crop is plentiful.
Second, cut only a few sprigs from any one bush.
Third, say thank you.
There are other, more practical suggestions,
like keep the cut sage in a paper bag until
ready for drying…
but I haven’t come that far.
I return the book to the shelf
next to a basket of bundled sage.
An advertisement: This is what you can do!
Some of the sage is bound in royal blue ribbon,
some with thin leather strips.
It looks peaceful enough.
Once, I worked making dinner salads
in a family restaurant outside of Philadelphia
with a crazy artist who swigged Chablis
as she cooked the evening specials.
At the busiest time of the night, she burned sage—
held it to the grill and smudged it against the metal stove.
She did this, she said, “to soothe us.”
So, for a few minutes, among quick-fried garlic
and hungry accountants there in the air
was the heavy earth-smell of history, of wisdom.
I am uncertain all the while
driving toward the Sangre de Cristo mountains
to my campsite,
eyeing the full bushes
just there, always there:
ready to suffer drought,
to be eaten by sleepy cows,
to be taken by a woman with a Swiss Army knife
and a howling need for ritual.
Edge of a public road—
car door open;
I can make a quick getaway.
Seven healthy bushes line the pebbled roadside.
In front of me, hundreds more. I run
my hands along a few lamb-eared sprigs,
already apologizing, thanking,
as I lay the blade against one stiff stalk.
Behind me, there is a Dopplered, baritone
loud and accusatory.
A passing motorcyclist waves his fist in the air
as he passes.
I turn to the bush, still between my thin fingers,
for some recognition: A friend of yours?
Maybe I am not ready for sage.
There is a power that others have
The ones who slice and bind and sell
relief in five-dollar bundles.
Maybe they have the magic understanding.
Maybe they don’t care what happens to them.
For me, sage is still power
in its desert home—
endlessly alive along the roads
I keep passing,
Author: Rachel Astarte
Editor: Caroline Beaton