Return to The Bardo of American Poets, Patriot and Expatriate (place)

Act II, Section Five of [An American Book of the Dead - The Game Show]. . .

[IBM and Microsoft Sittin' in a Tree|Act II, Sect. 4]

(The [Bardo Wheel] lights. [Spokesmodel] 1, sporting a [WWII] U.S. [Army helmet], helps [IBM and Microsoft Sittin' in a Tree|IBM] into the arm straps of a [portable flamethrower], while Spokesmodel 2, in [Japanese Army cap], ties the [blindfold].)

ANNOUNCER: Blink, [Maddy Kisses George Becomes Tonya|Kim/Tonya]’s being outfitted with a [U.S Army] portable [flamethrower], circa [1945]. Juiced with [napalm], this little beauty proves quite handy in ferreting out [stubborn Japs hiding in caves].

HOST: All set there, pal?

IBM: Yeah, I guess so.

HOST: Great. [Spin that Wheel!]

(The spokesmodels spin the wheel. IBM fires, igniting a single panel. As the lights fade and the wheel slows, the burning letters can be seen to say: “[The Bardo of American Poets, Patriot and Expatriate]”.


Lights up on an [African American] man wearing a suit of [mid-20th Century] cut.)

LANGSTON: Well, here you are; [free and bravely born] or not, looks like [enlightenment|the white light] gave you the slip once again, and now you’ve landed here....

Welcome to the Bardo of the American Poets, Patriot and Expatriate. This is a [descending bardo]. If you fail to recognize any poet here as [your true self], you drop to the next lower plane of [expatriotism].

Let’s start where it all began, with [Walt Whitman|the first native-born bard to ever utter genuine American].

(Lights up on Uncle Walt.)


[I celebrate myself, and sing myself],
and [what I assume you shall assume],
[quantum physics|for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you].

LANGSTON: Uncle [Walt Whitman].


Has anyone supposed it is [lucky to be born]?
I hasten to inform him or her it is just as [lucky to die], and I know it.

LANGSTON: That you do, Walt. That you do.


[Stop this day and night with me and you shall posses the origin of all poems].
Walt Whitman, a [kosmos].

LANGSTON: Your Uncle Walt has a simple, no-nonsense recipe for making [American poems].

UNCLE WALT: Make no quotations or references to other writers.

(A low groan comes from the opposite stage side.)

Take no illustrations whatever from [ancients] or [classics].

(The complaint grows louder. Lights rise slightly on [Ezra Pound|a shadowy figure in a cage].)

Make no mention or allusion to them whatever except as they relate to new present things. Use no ornaments, especially [no ornamental adjectives], unless they come [molten hot] and imperiously prove themselves.

(The shadowy figure speaks.)

UNCLE EZRA: Oh please.

UNCLE WALT: No ornamental similes at all. Not one.

UNCLE EZRA: Please, please, please!

UNCLE WALT (speaking now to the cage): Ezra, [perfect transparent clearness], ['tis a gift to be simple|simplicity], sanity and health are what’s wanted.

UNCLE EZRA: Heath? Sanity? Simplicity? You would have us write nothing but nursery verse for [the crude masses|the mood crasses]. You’d happily chain us forever to their provincial little lives.

UNCLE WALT: Now, Ezra, settle down. [treason|You put yourself where you are]. And [you’re only gonna make it worse with fussing].

LANGSTON: [Ignore the man in the cage]. We’ll get to him later.

(Lights dim on the cage.)

Uncle Walt never leaves America. Not in body, brain, heart, or soul. When [American Civil War|civil war] erupts, he journeys to the front at [Battle of Fredericksburg|Fredericksburg] and helps bury both [blue and gray] dead under a [white flag] of [truce]. Later he finds himself in [Washington, DC: a history|the nation’s unfinished capital], tending the wounded in countless ad hoc hospitals.

UNCLE WALT: I estimate, in the six hundred visits I made to the wards, I touched or talked to [one hundred thousand wounded men].

LANGSTON: Behold your Uncle Walt Whitman. Can you recognize him as [your own true self]? Never has nor will a poet loved this nation as unabashedly as he does.

If you lose touch with Uncle Walt you will drop to the next level of [poet patriot]s, [the good doctor], [William Carlos Williams].

(Lights up on Williams on a raised [plinth], somewhat lower than Whitman’s.)

DR. BILL: I deliver over 3,000 babies in [Paterson, New Jersey].

LANGSTON: Bill Williams begins hacking at verse as a young man entering [medical school]. He’ll pursue both careers for the rest of his life. Taking Uncle Walt’s advice to heart, he forges [a style so sparse] some are hard-pressed to call it [poetry] at all.


so much depends
upon a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white


That’s it.

LANGSTON: Yes, I know, Doctor Bill. I know.

He works in earnest opposition to what was going on across the sea, where [the Modernists] were infusing their work with all sorts of arcane allusions.

DR. BILL: Lines in languages you couldn’t possibly know, penned in strange alphabets you couldn’t possibly decipher; [literary puzzles to fiddle with while Rome burns and Luftwaffe bombards].

--Say it, [no ideas but in things]—-
Yes. [It is difficult to get the news from poems],
yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.

LANGSTON: Letters come across the sea, tempting, cajoling.

UNCLE EZRA (from the shadows): Deer Bulllll. I [really|rilly] think ye kneed te take a year off and come te [Europe|Yerhope]. I know you’re afeard of loosing yer [illusions], [reckoning|rickening] yer job gives ye contact or some such nonesuch. Ye don’t kneed to leave permanent. But yeh rilly ot teh see a [human being|yuman beeyin] now and aginish.

DR. BILL: A what? A human being? What do you think I’m doing over here? Please tell me, Ezra: what the hell have you done that I haven’t? Maybe I haven’t piled up a bin of [superior work] but I’ve hit right into [the center of the target] first and last and I haven’t been licked. . I’ve met a hell of a lot more of all kinds of people than you’ll even get your eyes on and [I’ve known them inside and outside] in ways you’ll never know.

LANGSTON: But Ezra was relentless. When he wrote--

UNCLE EZRA: Oh, my deer deer [gulible|gully bullllll,] cain’t ye see? [You’re pissing your life away].

LANGSTON: It echoed in Dr. Bill’s head.


Any way you talk
Any way you turn
Any way you stand
Any way you lie
[You have pissed your life]

LANGSTON: Listen to Dr. Bill. Recognize him as your true self: [earnestness|sincerity], [jealousy], [courage], [bitterness], [love], [longing and all]. [karma|Failing to recognize your William Carlos Willams nature causes you to drop to the next poet], [Emily Dickinson].

(Lights up on Emily, standing on a thin riser.)


[Because I did not stop for death],
he kindly stopped for me.

LANGSTON: That he did now, didn’t he, [Auntie Em]?

Such a [strange patriot] is Emily that she hardly ever ventures from her hometown of [Amherst, Massachusetts|Amherst]; and in later years, barely leaves the house.


[I never saw a moor].
[I never saw the sea].
Growing old--

LANGSTON: And severe--

AUNT EMILY: And queer--

LANGSTON: In [the same white dress].


[Title divine is mine]
The Wife without The Sign.
Acute degree
Conferred on me--
[Empress of Calvary].

LANGSTON: After she dies you’ll find eighteen hundred unpublished poems left behind like [a finicky dragons hoard].


[Tell all the truth but tell it slant],
[Success in circuit lies],
[enlightenment|Too bright for our infirm delight]
[kensho|The truth’s superb surprise].

LANGSTON: Listen to her. Take her in. [Recognize her quirky broken self as your own]. She is [the last poet firmly on this side of the Bardo], because with the fourth we enter [a painfully perfect balance of Patriotic Ambivalence].

(Langston himself steps forward at stage level.)
I am [Langston Hughes] and [I too sing America],
but [America was never America to me].
I am the [Native American|red man] driven from the land,
I am the [immigrant] clutching the [hope] I seek--
And finding only [the same old stupid plan]
Of [dog eat dog], of [mighty crush the weak].

I’m the one who left dark [Ireland]’s shore,
And [Poland]’s plain, and [England]’s grassy [lea],
And torn from [Black Africa]’s strand I came
To build a “[homeland of the free].”

The free?
[Who said the free? Not me.]
America was never America to me.

Hey, [not nearly brave or free], can you be me? Langston? If you fail, you fall to [the expatriate side of this bardo].

(Lights up on [T. S. Eliot], standing in a hole a few inches lower than stage level.)

Ol’ TSE:

[I grow old]... I grow old...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

LANGSTON: Born in [Ohio], T.S. Eliot flees America as soon as he is able, never looking back. He literally [renounces his U.S. citizenship] and becomes [subject to His Majesty the King of England].

Ol’ TSE:

[I am not Prince Hamlet],
nor was meant to be.

LANGSTON: Nobody’s arguing that.

With his [umbrella and bowler], working as a banker, Ol’ T.S.E. becomes [more British than all the British combined].

Ol’ TSE:

Shall I part my hair behind? [Do I dare to eat a peach?]

LANGSTON: Seems risky.

Folks, notice how far we’ve come already. From this...

UNCLE WALT: Walt Whitman, a kosmos.

LANGSTON: To this...

OL T.S.E.: [Do I dare disturb the universe?]

LANGSTON: Nick-named [the Possum] by his friend and mentor [Ezra Pound], Eliot watches the best of his generation destroyed in [the War to End All Wars].

OL’ T.S.E:

[This is how the world ends],
[nirvana|this is how the world ends],
[the end of the world as we know it|this is how the world ends],
[not with a bang but a whimper].

LANGSTON: Do you recognize anyone?... Maybe you’ll see yourself one step down in [Sylvia Plath, who] also moved to [England], but required [no Holocaust but her own].

(Lights up on Sylvia [on her knees] in front of an old-fashioned [gas oven range].)


Is [Dying is an art, like everything else|an art, like everything else].
I do it exceptionally well.

LANGSTON: That you do, Sister Silvia, that you do.

SISTER SYLVIA: [I do it so it feels like hell].

LANGSTON: She isn’t [Jewish], has no first hand experience of [Nazi atrocities], but nevertheless Sister Sylvia appropriates their horrors to represent her own inner torments.


[Every woman adores a Fascist]
[A man in black with a Meinkampf look]
And a love of [the rack and the screw].

An engine, an engine
[Chuffing me off like a Jew].

A Jew to [Dachau], [Aushwitz], [Belsen].
[I think I may well be a Jew].

LANGSTON: Nope. Not a Jew. But you find your oven, don’t you? Age 32, milk and cookies left out for your two children napping, you lay a dishtowel down on the racks, and then rest your head on it, turning on the gas.


Ash, ash--
You poke and stir
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there—

[Herr God], [Herr Lucifer],

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And [I eat men like air].

LANGSTON: If you don’t see yourself in Sister Sylvia, [Ezra Pound|Uncle Ezra] might give you one last chance.

(Lights up on Ezra clutching the bars of his cage sunk halfway into the stage floor.)


I am a [weird untamed]
That eat of no man’s meat.
My house is the rain ye wail against.
[My drink is the wine of sleet].

LANGSTON: You’ll find Ezra somewhere in [Italy] in a cage specially constructed for the worst kind of [American traitors].

UNCLE EZRA: Six by six by ten. Cement floor and a tarpaper roof. I call it my [gorilla cage]. I’m surrounded by [America|Murka]’s best and blightest: deserters and rapists and coons.

LANGSTON: Ah Ezra, ever the aristocrat.

For Uncle E, it wasn’t enough to leave, or even despise, America. He needed to join arms with the [Fascists], [Il Duce] and [Der Fuhrer], broadcasting hate to his former fellow countrymen, the [American GI’s] who had come to [liberate Europe].

UNCLE EZRA: For the [United States] to be making war on [Italy] and [Germany] is just plain damn nonsense, and every [WASP|native-born American of American stock] knows it.

LANGSTON: For Uncle E, it’s clear who runs things back home.

UNCLE EZRA: Just which of you is free from [Jewish influence]? Your own louse of a [Franklin Delano Roosevelt|President] stands for Jewry, all Jewry and nothing but Jewry. Lil’ Frankie Jewsefeldt.

LANGSTON: Here is at least one American unsaddened by the news of FDR’s death.

UNCLE EZRA: [Boo-hoo to the tearful neargrows in jewspaper hats] mourning the dead dog Rosenfeld.

LANGSTON: At least one Yankee not applauding [atomic weaopons|the new bombs] dropped on [Hiroshima] and [Nagasaki].

UNCLE EZRA: Say this to [the Possum,] who couldn’t be more wrong: [it’s a bang, not a whimper]... Do you hear me?! A BANG!

LANGSTON: Do you find yourself hating Uncle Ezra? Or pitying him? Be careful. Without Ezra heralding their work, it’s possible neither Eliot nor Williams would ever be published. [the web of everything|Every poet here, every poet anywhere, is crucial to every other poet’s existence]. Without Auntie Em there would certainly be no Sister Sylvia. And without Uncle Walt, no Uncle E or me.

UNCLE WALT: I celebrate myself, and sing myself,

DR. BILL: --Say it, no ideas but in things--

AUNT EMILY: I never saw a moor. I never saw the sea.

LANGSTON: Torn from Black Africa’s strand I came to build a “homeland of the free.”

Ol’ TSE: I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be.

SISTER SYLVIA: I think I may well be a Jew.

UNCLE EZRA: I am a weird untamed that eat of no man’s meat.

UNCLE WALT: Every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.

UNCLE EZRA: My house is the rain ye wail against.

DR. BILL: Any way you talk.

UNCLE EZRA: My drink is the wine of sleet.

DR. BILL: Any way you stand.

AUNT EMILY: Tell all the truth but tell it slant.

OL’ T.S.E: This is how the world ends.

DR. BILL: Any way you lie.

SISTER SYLVIA: Every woman adores a Fascist.

DR. BILL: You have pissed your life.

LANGSTON: Who said the free? Not me?

UNCLE EZRA: Boo-hoo to the tearful neargrows in jewspaper hats.

(The poets disintegrate into cacophony, everyone proclaiming at once until...)


UNCLE WALT: After culture has said its last say we find that [the best things remain to be said]-- that the heart is still listening to have heart things said to it-- the brain still listening to have brain things said to it-- the faith, the spirit, the soul, still waiting...

(Lights specify to Langston.)

LANGSTON: Well, looks like you’ll be headed back to the world now. And it looks like you’ll be waiting still. Brain, heart and soul.

(Lights rise on [The Legend of Cheek Eye Chin|Tom Hennessy] smoking quietly at the [A Gatling Gun in Old New York & The Bardo of Intermission|Gatling gun] above.

A tight special lights [Blink Bodie] . . . . )

[Ghosts of the Irish Brigade|ABOD-TGS Act II, Sect. 6]