(. . . . The Bardo Wheel lights up and the Spokesmodels roll out a cannon, then blindfold Barry, place a tri-corner hat on his head, and hand him a cannoneer’s linstock with a burning match on its end.)
ANNOUNCER: Barry, you hold in your hand a cannoneer’s linstock. To your immediate right sits a six-pounder field piece from the Revolutionary War.
HOST: This oughta be old hat for you, Barry, what with all that dress-up soldier you used to play oh so many lives ago.
BARRY: Well um, actually, Blink: by the time of the Civil War, cannons were fired by tugging a length of cord called a lanyard.
BARRY: Yeah, Blink.
HOST: Shut it and shoot it.
HOST: Sweethearts, spin that wheel!
(The wheel is spun. Barry fires the cannon blowing a hole through the panel reading: “The Bardo of American Heroes of Violence.” These letters glow while everything else fades to black. Lights up on the Bardo Guide standing in the audience, dressed like a park ranger.)
BARDO GUIDE: Please step forward and watch your step as you enter the Bardo.
(She clears her throat.)
BARDO GUIDE: Oh brave and freely born, having failed once again to grasp the clear light of reality, you are now entering the Bardo of American Heroes of Violence. Be warned, the apparitions you see here are merely illusory projections of your own in-between consciousness. Please pay attention, but not too much attention, lest your fears and desires cause your rebirth in a world of violence.
(Lights up on Stonewall Jackson.)
BARDO GUIDE: Behold the great General, Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. His right hand wields the scabbardless sword of righteous reckoning. His left palm is upturned in prayer. In this aspect he gives battle to the infidel invaders of the South. In his other left hand, General Jackson holds the half-sucked lemon of legend.
STONEWALL: I have always suffered an acute dyspepsia. Lemons help ease this discommodity and soothe a parched mouth.
BARDO GUIDE: Clutched in Stonewall’s other right hand is the Westminster Shorter Catechism of Presbyterianism.
STONEWALL: And I quote: the duty which God requireth of man, is obedience to his revealed will.
In this Holy War between Union and Confederacy, the Lord Almighty alone will decide who is right. Duty is ours; the consequences are God’s.
BARDO GUIDE: His third right hand brandishes the Confederate battle flag. His third left, the plain black flag.
STONEWALL: Flying the black flag informs the enemy that surrender will never be begged nor quarter given. A fight to the last man alive. We must not merely defend ourselves, we must attack! Give me three swift columns stabbing North and I will hold you hostage the richest cities of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York.
BARDO GUIDE: One of his officers once let a particularly brave squad of Union cavalry escape.
STONEWALL: No, sir. You must kill them all. I do not want the enemy brave; I want him dead.
BARDO GUIDE: Behold the bardo demon/saint “Stonewall” Jackson.
STONEWALL: The punishment of national sins must be confined to this world, as there are no nationalities beyond the grave.
BARDO GUIDE: Do you admire him? Despise him? He is nothing but your own true self disguised. Realize this, or be reborn in a world of violence.
Now, adjust your eyes now to the shadows and concentrate. If you focus hard enough, you may envision Stonewall’s bardo wife.
HARRIET: Harriet Tubman.
BARDO GUIDE: Friend of the Hopeless, Ally of the Night, runaway slave turned Underground Railroad Conductor. Her right arm upraises the living symbol of her people’s salvation -- the North Star.
HARRIET: On a clear night running, just keep it in front of y’all to find yo way to freedom. Cloudy nights ye gots to feel the tree trunks for the mossy side.
BARDO GUIDE: In her left hand she holds a pistol: insurance against passengers who might lose nerve and try to turn back.
HARRIET: I’ll give you the same choice the Good Lawd gives every body: git free or die. I done my share of digging. Won’t take me long to plant what’s left of you in this soft Dixie dirt.
BARDO GUIDE: Be not afraid, oh free and brave. Conductor Tubman will free over 300 slaves, and never lose a passenger.
In her middle right hand she holds forty thousand dollars.
HARRIET: That’s nearly a million to you these days.
STONEWALL: The Confederate reward for her capture, dead or alive.
HARRIET: I guess I’s one pricey little slave girl now.
BARDO GUIDE: In her middle left hand she holds an open book.
HARRIET: Any book’ll do.
BARDO GUIDE: Harriet can’t read.
HARRIET: Says so on my wanted poster, or so dey tell me. But as long as I hold dis book right side up dem slave dawgs take me for a free nigger girl who done know’d how to read.
BARDO GUIDE: In her lower right hand she wields a Sharps carbine.
HARRIET: For a little more long-range firepower.
JACKSON: Her weapon of choice for rising against her native land.
HARRIET: Shoot. My native land is freedom.
Up until your first Gulf War, I am the first and only woman to lead an American combat expedition. I takes me a battalion of 600 black freedmen, and I raid up and down Carolina River plantations. One day we free 750 slaves. Cain’t nearly fit ‘em all on the boats. Lawd, it’s a good day.
BARDO GUIDE: Her lower left hand is empty.
HARRIET: Folks give me money ‘cuz they thinks I’s po. But ders plenty folk more po dan me. What folks give I jist pass on down. Lawd knows I don’t need much to live.
BARDO GUIDE: Both husband and wife maintain a constant state of prayer in this bardo, as they did in life.
HARRIET: “Lawdy, unharden Pharaoh’s heart, and let him let my people go out this Egypt, or better yet, put his hard heart in front of my bullet and I’ll soften it myself.
(Lights up on Crispus Attucks.)
CRISPUS: Crispus Attucks.
BARDO GUIDE: Half–black, half Nantucket Indian, like his bardo mother he ran away from slavery at an early age.
CRISPUS: Became a sailor. One of the few things they’ll let a dark man do for a decent wage.
BARDO GUIDE: In his left hand he holds a length of rope.
CRISPUS: I’m a rope-maker. Learned it at sea. What else you gonna do when you’re stuck on a whaler three years?
Lately the Redcoats been moonlighting in town, taking our jobs. We tussle with the lobster-backed bastards sometimes, if they come in our pubs. One winter night, me and the boys had a few and then had some fun with a lone British guard out on patrol.
BARDO GUIDE: In his right hand Crispus holds a snowball.
CRISPUS: We pelted him good. Next thing we know, a crowd’s gathered round.
BARDO GUIDE: In the subsequent murder trial, future Founding Father John Adams stands as defending counsel for the British soldiers. He calls the crowd---
STONEWALL: “A motley rabble of saucy boys, negroes and molattoes, Irish teagues and outlandish jack tarrs.”
CRISPUS: That’s us all right, all pelting this lobster good. Then don’t ya know a whole squad of lobsters shows up. High, mighty Sergeant tell us to disperse. Shoves his bayonet at me.
“Man, get that knitting needle out my face.”
(A single gunshot. Crispus staggers backwards.)
CRISPUS: They shot--
(A musket volley. Crispus crumples.)
CRISPUS: They shot us dead... for chunking... snowballs.
(Emma Goldman enters.)
EMMA: They shot my brother dead for throwing snowballs. There’s your precious government for you; and your glorious Boston Massacre-- a snow ball fight.
CRISPUS: That’s my sister.
EMMA: Emma Goldman.
Maybe your illustrious John Adams is right. Maybe my brother Crispus was nothing more than a saucy jack-tarr thug looking for trouble. But aren’t all revolutions ultimately sparked by such men? Where would you be without my brother, Crispus?
CRISPUS: Man, get that knittin’ needle out my face.
CRISPUS: Well, we was just chunkin’ snowballs.
EMMA: Why am I an Anarchist? Because all forms of government rest on violence.
HARRIET: Dat’s my daughter Emma. In one hand she hold a flower.
EMMA: It’s for you. It’s freedom. It’s sex. It’s creativity. It’s a promise of change for the better. Everybody-- not just the rich, but everybody-- has the right to beautiful, radiant things.
STONEWALL: In her other hand, she holds a bomb.
EMMA: The killing of a tyrant, an enemy of the people, is in no way to be considered the taking of a life.
HARRIET: She hold a flower.
EMMA: Love is an art, I am the artist. I love children and springtime and most of all I love my freedom.
STONEWALL: She holds a bomb.
EMMA: Violence is inevitable, never mind what Jesus said. Human nature does and must resist repression. Government is violence. Fire fights fire.
STONEWALL: The flower is a bomb.
HARRIET: The bomb is a flower.
BARDO GUIDE: The weight in one hand tugs her forwards. The weight of the other yanks her back. And so she dances... and so she always will.
HARRIET: That chil’ sho do like to dance.
EMMA: If I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.
Instead, oh bravely born, look again and behold the second son of the Bardo.
(Lights up on Audie.)
MURPHY: Audie Murphy.
BARDO GUIDE: The most decorated soldier of America’s most beloved war,
MURPHY: WW II.
BARDO GUIDE: Audie sits atop a burning tank destroyer. His left hand holds a field phone wired back to rear artillery. His right hand grips the trigger of the mounted machine gun.
AUDIE: The Krauts are advancing across an open field of snow. Most of my whole platoon’s already scattered, but I’ll be damned if I’m runnin’. They already pinned me with every medal they’ve got. ‘Bout all that’s left now is for some medic to split my dog tags, and today seems as good as any... so long as I can take some Jerrys with me.
BARDO GUIDE: Careful. Audie is the most dangerous vision here. For most Americans, he’s damned near irresistible.
AUDIE: As soon as the Kraut infantry marches within range I start mowing ‘em down like carnival ducks. Oil smoke covers me like a nightmare. They got no clue where the lead’s comin’ from, and I got no qualms; no pride; no remorse. Rules of war are simple. Got a gun in your hand? You’re a soldier-- fair game. You only become human again once I put a bullet in you.
BARDO GUIDE: Careful now. Breathe him in and breathe him out.
AUDIE: I take a breather both to let the barrel cool and call in some big stuff. This 50 caliber ain’t even gonna dent those tanks.
(A telephone rings.)
BARDO GUIDE: Battalion.
AUDIE: This is Murphy. We’re under attack. I need artillery: a round of smoke at coordinates thirty-ought-five dash sixty, and tell those joes to shake the lead out.
BARDO GUIDE: How many krauts?
AUDIE: Six tanks I can see, maybe a couple hundred infantry.
BARDO GUIDE: Good god! How close?
AUDIE: Close enough. Gimme that damned fire!
STONEWALL: Ah, artillery. Lord, how I love a good cannon fight. Nothing like it to raise the blood.
BARDO GUIDE: It isn’t just Stonewall’s blood that’s rising, is it? You’ve wanted to be Audie ever since you first played war as a kid. Fully automatic death in one hand. A direct line to the wrath of God in the other.
Let’s take a break. Relax. You can be Audie practically any time you want, but it could just be an eternity before you get a chance to see the big picture this clearly again.
Look back into the darkness, and see his sister...
(Lights up on Molly and her cannon.)
MOLLY: Molly Pitcher.
STONEWALL: Just as there is no Stonewall--
HARRIET: --Without Harriet.
EMMA: No death.
CRISPUS: Without sex.
AUDIE: There just can’t be an Audie—
MOLLY: --Without Molly.
All History knows for sure about Molly Pitcher is that she was almost certainly not named “Molly”... or “Pitcher”. According to legend, her husband mans a field piece in the Continental Army.
MOLLY: All the boys in the battery get frightfully parched in the heat of battle and good ol’ Molly does her best to keep ‘em cool.
CRISPUS: She’s getting pretty sweaty herself.
MOLLY: You just mind your gun, soldier.
BARDO GUIDE: Suddenly, her husband is hit by a musket ball.
STONEWALL: Damnation! The field piece is undermanned and will have to retreat.
EMMA: But wait! Molly picks up the ramrod and takes her man’s position. The revolution will continue, regardless of sex.
(A phone rings.)
AUDIE: This is Murphy. We’re under attack. I need artillery.
MOLLY: I’m here for you.
AUDIE: Give me smoke at nine-one-one, nine-eleven, nineteen ninety nine nine NINE NEIN!--
MOLLY: --Roger that!
AUDIE: --And tell those girls to shake the lead out.
CRISPUS: How many Ivans?
AUDIE: A thousand planes I can see, a couple million infantry.
MOLLY: Dear God! How close?
AUDIE: Close enough. Gimme that damned fire!
MOLLY: Molly rams the round home!
STONEWALL: And fire!
(The cannon fires. A shell whistles in.)
AUDIE: A squad of black pajamas disappears in a cloud of snow.
MOLLY: How’s that?
AUDIE: Good! But they’re closin’! Move 50 over and keep firing for effect.
(The cannon fires.)
BARDO GUIDE (shouting over the fray): You’ve waited too long, bravely born. Now you’ve come to the place where all hell forever breaks loose.
MOLLY: How close are they?
AUDIE: 50 over, and keep blasting.
BARDO GUIDE: I tried to warn you. But you couldn’t resist.
STONEWALL: Duty is ours, the consequences are God’s.
MOLLY: How close are they now?
AUDIE: 50 over. Keep it coming.
HARRIET: Lawd, unharden Pharaoh’s heart, or put it in front of my bullet and I’ll soften it myself.
MOLLY: How close are they?
AUDIE: 50 over and keep firing for effect.
BARDO GUIDE: At the battle of Second Manassas, Jackson loses the tip of his left finger to a cannon ball.
(Stonewall’s finger disappears.)
MOLLY: How close are they to your position?
AUDIE: Hold the phone; I’ll let ya chat with one of the bastards.
CRISPUS: Man, get that knittin’ needle out my face.
AUDIE: I check my machine gun for damage, then squeeze the trigger. The chatter of the gun is like sweet music. Three hadjis stagger and crumple in the snow.
CRISPUS: Shot us... dead... for chunkin’ snowballs.
EMMA: Never mind what Jesus said, fire fights—
EMMA & STONEWALL (simultaneously): FIRE!
(Loud crashing explosion.)
AUDIE: My tank destroyer shudders under another direct hit.
MOLLY: Are you still alive, my love?
AUDIE: I think so. Correct fire: 50 over.
I feed another belt into the machine gun and grab the trigger again, boring into anything that moves, slowly travers-ing the barrel.
STONEWALL: You must kill them all. I do not want the enemy brave; I want him dead.
AUDIE: Twelve bodies slump in a stack position. Methodically I give ‘em another thorough burst, and pick up the phone.
Battalion, correct fire. 50 over.
MOLLY: Are you all right, lover?
AUDIE: I’m all right, Sergeant. What are your postwar plans? Just give me that fire.
BARDO GUIDE: At Chancellorsville, after being mistakenly shot by his own troops, Stonewall Jackson loses his arm to the surgeon’s saw.
(Stonewall’s entire arm disappears.)
He dies days later of pneumonia.
STONEWALL: Two short months shy of the Battle of Gettysburg.
BARDO GUIDE: Do you mourn the loss of American gallantry? Well, snap out of it! There’s no time!
AUDIE: The barrage lands within fifty yards of me. The shouting, screaming, cheese-eating, freedom-hating, evil-doers caught in it are silent now.
Sergeant, this is my last change. Correct fire: 50 over; and keep firing for effect.
MOLLY: 50 over? That’s your own position.
AUDIE: I don’t give a damn. 50 over.
(A shell whistles in for an eternity, then, instead of an explosion, utter silence. The bardo heroes freeze and the Bardo Guide steps into a special.)
BARDO GUIDE: Oh free and bravely born, you have passed through the Bardo of American Heroes of Violence. At any time you could have detached yourself from these visions, achieving perfect peace and enlightenment. But... you blew it. Hey, don’t feel so bad. Happens to the best of us, and the worst of us. Fact is, it pretty much happens to all of us. But it is surely now your fate to be reborn yet again in a world of violence.
On behalf of the United States of Transcendence, I thank you for visiting. Please step carefully when exiting the bardo.