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PALO SANTO by Shannon K. Lockhart

 I spent most of my life feeling censored…

Ironically, it wasn't until I lived in Guatemala as a human rights and mental health worker, working on a project called "Historic Memory," that I began to feel freer to explore who I was and what I wanted to say. I also experienced many things in post war Guatemala that are difficult to put into words, in part because it all happened in languages that are not my native one, and in part because sometimes the depths of experience surpass words. 

A few years after I moved back to the US, drawings and poems began to pour out, surprising me with their vibrancy and emotion. I had promised the people of Guatemala, the survivors of unspeakable acts, that I would remember them and tell their stories. Our stories became entwined, sacred acts of defiance in the face of those who wanted to erase the truth. 

Palo santo and copal are two different types of incense used to cleanse the air and draw the spirit world and the actual world together. They are often used in healing rituals, and I often begin my drawings or writings by burning the palo santo in the hopes that it will cleanse me and lead me towards healing.

Palo Santo
by Shannon K. Lockhart

aching with

i take off my
my feet 
ground themselves
in the scratchy sweet
of the grass,
i light copal
and palo santo,
dancing them into
the air,
this space

that will reconnect me,
perhaps the smoke will
guide my hands
into a drawing,
so i can see what i feel
even if i can't name it

the sacred
always pulls me
into that other world

i get lost
or perhaps i
just don't want to

i feel lighter there
maybe it is 
my reality and 
my waking life is only
a dream
that repeats

Shannon K. Lockhart is a social worker, human rights activist, and teacher who has recently embarked on her newest journey as an artist and poet. She is a native Louisvillian, but has spent most of her adult life living in Chicago and Central America. Shannon spent 12 years working with indigenous communities, genocide survivors, and other human rights activists in Guatemala before returning to the U.S. with her family. Her greatest source of pride is her family, and she works hard to be a mother who imparts joy, gratitude, and respect for the unexpected bumps along the road. Shannon has published her poetry online with Rebelle Society and in DoveTales, a print journal published by the group, Writing for Peace. She can frequently be found drumming in parks with her family, drawing, or reading her poetry at the Urban Goatwalker Coffeehouse in the Phoenix Hill neighborhood.

~If you are interested in seeing your poetry appear in this blog, or submitting a poem by a woman that has inspired you, please click here for submission guidelines. I greatly look forward to hearing from you!~


  1. Absolutely beautiful. Every sacred-given word of it. Thank you.


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