A Nettle Story
By Patrick Kiley
I am crawling all over with what feels like narcotic withdrawal but it’s just nettles. I am tired but I can’t sleep because I want to rub my skin off. It’s midnight. There are heightened emotions living across my skin caused by plant toxins that I underestimated. This is the first time I have felt nettle tearing through the mind-body membrane and waving its poisons like tasers.
It is 12:10 am and I am alone in this room with the fan running and an old window screen loaded with drying nettles. This is far, far from drunkenness. Does magic experience phase states, as it leaps from one body to another? Maybe it is a phase state itself?
Nettles have serrated heart-shaped leaves that grow in pairs on a tall thin stalk. To harvest you take clippers or scissors and cut just above one of the plant’s axils (leaf pairs), which will allow it to keep growing. The axils alternate in their orientation, climbing the stalk opposite each other. The plant grows quickly to be as high as a person.
The complex emotion I feel is both nausea at the thought of nettles and uncontrollable attraction to them. My body is swinging back and forth between two possibilities: either become nettles or be a person who does not disturb the nettle corpus. The whole extended family is singing to me a song of warning and welcome. I have to go to sleep somehow. Tomorrow I have to be a person. Can I work this out in my dreams?
Nettles are good for your adrenal glands. They are very high in iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin C, and other nutrients. They help women’s fertility and reproductive cycles. They grow in groups always, sometimes in an unquantifiable potent assemblage like an army at camp, dense and homogenous. At other times they are more like groups of strays just finding each other after a battle. I feel like the object of tactical violence.
I say it is the first time I’ve felt this way because in the past I took the tingling sting of nettle hairs as a sort of feather tickle. It is said to be good for one’s circulation, and I believe it. It doesn’t hurt unless you do it a lot. Then it hurts. It hurts so much that I am short-tempered and mad with the pain. I am too incapacitated even to seek the soft kiss of jewelweed, no doubt growing within several hundred feet of me. But I cannot get it because I think going outside now—1:15 am—would only make this worse. To stumble around Hudson in my socks and underwear looking for jewelweed in Prison Alley: too extravagantly human.
It hurts so much that I am writing. I am lucid and stimulated and upset. I want to put my feet into damp woodland dirt and feel its coolness. I want my own small poison hairs and a chlorophyll heartbeat that I share with a thousand fellow beings.
I just tried to punch the cement wall in the dark. I would take the quick pain of cutting off my hands if they’d grow back tomorrow. This agony is exceptional in that, as bad as it feels, I am tempted to have more. This particular sort of pain, euphoric nettle pain, is calling for greater expression through me. Some kind of subtle and messy reproduction is taking place here, a truly wild asexual folly. I’m cloaked in nettle, or it in me, and I’m helping it do its work—not the bacteriophagic work of consumption but something more like education. Conversion.
The harvesting earlier today was like this as well, I see now. I continued in my quiet exertions because I felt I needed more, and more was at hand. We were in dappled sun and shade, which is ideal both for the nettle and myself. The feeling of furtive persuasion and beckoning began at the outset and is refracted inward now in the most intense phase. I long for this: The jewelweed’s watery stem breaks open releasing a cool wave allaying the wicked fire of acids and histamines injected by the needling trichomes.
2:30 AM. No real sensation goes unshared. The nettle and I sit across from each other in perfect disagreement, its leaves all fallen and pooled at the base of its naked stem. I regard this thin green thing and out of a deep and tutored love refuse to touch it with my bare hands.
Reprinted with permission from The New Farmer’s Almanac Vol. II (2015). Vol. II (2015) and Vol. III (2016) are both available from young land stewards across the country and at etsy.com/shop/greenhorns.
Want more great stories like this? Follow us on Facebook.