This is a sample section from my play An American Book of the Dead - The Game Show. . .


(. . . 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.)

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.

On behalf of the United States of Transcendence Bardo Services, welcome to the Bardo of American Heroes of Violence.

(Lights up on Stonewall Jackson.)

Behold, standing before you is the great General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. In his right hand he wields the scabbard-less sword of righteous reckoning. His left palm is upturned in a direct line of prayer. In this aspect he gives battle to the infidel invaders of the Confederacy. 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.

Question Number 1: What is the chief end of man?

STONEWALL: Answer: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.

BARDO GUIDE: Question number two: What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

STONEWALL: Answer: The Word of God contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us.

BARDO GUIDE: Question number thirty-nine: What is the duty which God requireth of man?

STONEWALL: Answer: 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 holds the Confederate battle flag. His third left hand holds an unadorned 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. This is the war I advise we wage against the North. Give me three swift columns stabbing up across the Mason-Dixon line 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 General Thomas “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. Unless you realize this, chances are you'll be reborn in a world of violence.

Instead, adjust your eyes now to the shadows and concentrate. If you focus hard enough, you may envision Stonewall's bardo wife.

(Harriet appears, half in shadows at first.)

HARRIET: Harriet Tubman.

BARDO GUIDE: Friend of the Hopeless, Ally of the Night. Runaway slave girl turned Underground Railroad Conductor. In her right arm upraised she holds her people's living symbol of 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 a passenger 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 they tell me. I'll have to take ‘em at dey word on dat. But as long as I hold my book right side up I gots a chance dem slave dawgs'll 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 Persian 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: White folks give me money ‘cuz they thinks I's po. But ders plenty a black folk more po dan me. What folks give me 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.

STONEWALL: A plea for the proper placement of cannon: “Heavenly Father, guide my hand against the Host of Invading Infidel. Make my rag-tag Shenandoah army an army rather of God.”

HARRIET: “Lawdy, unharden Pharaoh's heart, and let him let my people go out this Egypt, or put his hard heart in front of one of my bullets and I'll soften it myself.

BARDO GUIDE: On the Eve of the American Revolution, their first child is born.

(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 for three years?

Lately the Redcoats been moonlighting in town, taking up jobs from fellahs like me. We tussle with these lobster-backed bastards sometimes, if they try and come in our pubs. One winter night, me and the boys had a few and then had some fun with a lone red-coat guard out on patrol.

BARDO GUIDE: In his right hand Crispus holds a snowball.

CRISPUS: We pelted him good. Next thing we know we got a crowd 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 with their muskets and their bayonets. High, mighty Sergeant tell us to disperse. Shoves his point at me. “Man, get that knitting needle out my face.”

(A single gunshot. Crispus staggers backwards.)

CRISPUS: He shot--

(A musket volley. Crispus crumples.)

They shot us dead... for chunking... snowballs.

(Emma Goldman enters the light.)

EMMA: They shot my brother dead for throwing snowballs. There's your precious government for you; and your glorious Boston Massacre-- a snowball fight.

CRISPUS: That's my sister, Emma.

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.

EMMA: Far from being depraved creatures of low instincts, such men are in reality supersensitive beings driven to some violent expression, even at the sacrifice of their own lives, because they cannot supinely witness the suffering of their fellows.

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.”

BARDO GUIDE: Emma changes her mind.

EMMA: Acts of violence, except as demonstrations of a sensitive human soul, have proven utterly useless.

HARRIET: She hold a flower.

EMMA: Sex is the source of life. 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. If no other method is left, violence is not only justifiable, but imperative, not because anarchism teaches it, but because 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. The weight in one hand tugs her forwards.

STONEWALL: The weight of the other yanks her back.

BARDO GUIDE: 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.

BARDO GUIDE: Does Emma intrigue you? Repulse you? Either way takes you back to a world of violence.

Instead, oh bravely born, look now on the other side and behold her brother, the second son of the Bardo.

(Lights up on Audie.)

MURPHY: Audie Murphy.

BARDO GUIDE: The most decorated soldier of America's most popular war, WW II.

EMMA: Otherwise known as the Good War.

BARDO GUIDE: He sits atop a bombed-out, 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, covered by a murderous support fire. Most of my whole platoon's already scattered, but I'll be damned if I'm runnin'. The brass has already pinned me with every medal they've got. ‘Bout all that's left is for some medic to split my dog tags, and today seems as good as any for that. I'm taking some Jerrys with me.

BARDO GUIDE: Careful. Audie is one of the most dangerous visions here in the Bardo, for one simple reason: some part of all of us wishes we were he.

AUDIE: As soon as the Kraut infantry marches within range I start mowing ‘em down like carnival ducks. They have no clue where the lead's comin' from. Oil smoke covers me like a nightmare. I got no qualms; no pride; no remorse. Rules of war are simple. You got a gun in your hand, you're a soldier-- fair game. It's only after I put a bullet in you that you become a human being again.

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.

BARDO GUIDE: Coming up.

AUDIE: I want a round of smoke at co-ordinates 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.

Wait!

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 Emma.

CRISPUS: Without Crispus.

AUDIE: There just can't be an Audie—

MOLLY: --Without Molly.

BARDO GUIDE: Behold, Molly Pitcher stands before you. Water jug in one hand, cannon ramrod in the other.

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 cannon 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.)

MOLLY: Battalion.

AUDIE: This is Murphy. We're under attack. I need artillery.

MOLLY: Coming up.

AUDIE: I want a round of smoke at co-ordinates thirty-ought-five dash sixty, and tell those girls to shake the lead out.

CRISPUS: How many Lobsters?

AUDIE: Six tanks I can see, maybe a couple hundred 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 Kraut grunts disappears in a cloud of black smoke and snow.

MOLLY: How's that?

AUDIE: Good! But they're closin'! Move 50 over and keep firing for effect.

STONEWALL: Fire!

(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.

STONEWALL: Fire!

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.

STONEWALL: Fire!

MOLLY: How close are they?

AUDIE: 50 over and keep firing for effect.

STONEWALL: Fire!

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 krauts stagger and crumple in the snow.

CRISPUS: Shot us... dead... for chunkin' snowballs.

EMMA: Never mind what Jesus said, fire fights 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 traversing 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.

STONEWALL: Fire!

BARDO GUIDE: At Chancellorsville, after being mistakenly shot by his own troops, Stonewall Jackson loses his whole arm.

(Stonewall's entire arm disappears.)

AUDIE: The barrage lands within fifty yards of me. The shouting, screaming Krauts 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, thus 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.

(Blackout. . . .)

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