Of Animals and Jewels

Vibrant gold and silver, azure and amber adorn us
Cats claws bejewel our fingers
Eagle feathers bedeck our backs
And the snakes flickering tail entwines our spine.
Our wings have stroked the sun
While we bathed in blue light.
We have slept in ancient caves
Wandered in moonlit fields
And climbed eternal mountains.
The roar of the lion has filled our throats
The tooth of the tiger has wounded us
The serpent’s tongue has caressed our hearts
And we have swum with the demons of the deep sea.
Our souls have been ravaged and washed clean again by ruby red rivers of blood
And we have eaten the fruits of delight and drunk goblets of salted tears.
We are the sublime creatures of the wild
We are the priests of passion
We are the disciples of love.

Shiva and Shakti in the Sea of Love

She lies waiting in the sea
Of swirling deep waters
The light in her heart
No longer allows her
To travel to the dark caverns
Of the heavy laden lands
She is confined now to this place
Of luminous water and light
Bells ring in her ears
She has no more memory
Of the other sounds
Of the other tastes and smells
Now there is only the sweet taste
Of the nectar from the lips of her Beloved
He will come to her in the sacred pool
Of swells and strong currents
A meeting of the raging fires that burn
And the blessed waters of love.

Your Pretty Flower

So easy to say you love me
Like a pretty flower
You pass on your way to somewhere else.
For me it’s not like that
My longing for you
Is like being lost inside the flower
Tangled in silken petals
Breathing the scent of your name.


Your steps beside me
Echo like bells
Your presence drapes my shoulders
In swirling silk
My eyes drowning
In rivers of you
« Let’s share our blood »
You murmur
Our love like bread among friends
Gold coins on the steps of the temple.

Black and White 

I clothe myself in the white gown of beauty
My skin is soft
I imagine your fingers stroke my arm
I am the ecstatic bride of faith and waiting.
When the night turns cold
I wrap myself in the black shawl
Of the passionate dancer
Of the widow
How many times have I lost you?
To another woman
To another world
To the great mystery of your life
Separate from mine.

Circus Horses

The lessons come
The hard ones
Like circus horses
That I may dance upon their backs
Fearless and brave
Strong and beautiful
I don’t mind the falls
Because I can practice flying
Soon I will try the trapeze…..

The Shore

You slide between my fingers
Like crystal sand
Each grain another
Living piece of my heart
Sifting forever
To an endless beach
Where you will always be
But never in my hand
Brilliant sun embraces
Waves caress
The universe illuminated
All sorrows dissolve
In the shadow free light
Of pure love.


I trudge through frozen fields
Searching for wood
to keep us alive in winter
You reach inside your heart
And pull words like spring rose petals
Sweeter and warmer than any fire
In this cold place we are calling home….
Your body is my shelter
Your touch is my heat
Your breath is my sustenance
And we are no more different
Than two snowflakes in a raging storm
All separation dissolving
Thin ice
In the blazing sun
Two drops of water
In an ocean of love.

The Pierced Heart

I have drunk deeply from the cup of love
‘’til there was not another drop
My lips still parched
I pleaded for more
For I could not find the sea of love
That sang inside my own heart

I have thrown myself at the feet of love
Wracked with longing
My body raging
With the fires of love

I have shed my blood on the loins of love
And wept ‘’til there was no more salt in the ocean
No more water in the well

I have stood rooted in the storms of love
When I thought I could not withstand her fury
I have survived only to dare her force again

I have bathed in the rivers of love
My skin singing with her sweet graces
My heart split wide with her fierce currents

I have tried to strangle love
To trap her
To spoil her joy
And she has turned to me with tears in her eyes
Crying for her freedom
And begging me to believe in her

I have in my blindness
Offered her half my heart.
She gave me back a candle
That burned sweetly until dawn
Then flickered and surrendered
To the demons of scarcity

I have made demands of love
And thought to use her for my comfort
But she has alluded me
Amused by my foolishness
And calling me yet further and further
‘’Til all I could do was to follow her
For nothing else mattered
But the silver song of her voice in my ear
Her ecstatic kiss on my lips

I have tried to bargain with love
I have sat at her table and begged for her crumbs
I have pleaded for promises from her lips
She has refused me time and time again
And offered me only her truth
Waiting for the prisoner of fear
To finally rest in her sublime embrace

I have laughed with the high priestess of love,
And seen her golden light in the morning mist
And her flashing glance
Dancing in the stars at night

I have sought high and low for love
Until She found me
Enfolded me, uplifted
Destroyed and delivered me

I have stood for all eternity at the gates of love
Knocking ‘’til my fists were torn
My questions spent
Love handed me the mirror of my heart,
So I could see her at last
And know her as my own
While the sun, the moon and stars
Danced and sang her songs
In glistening spheres of light
With no beginning and no end…..


Where I Come From

Where I come from
Mothers give their children the wheat-flour maize
from their own bowl
To quiet the empty bellies of the young
You eat, mother said
Fathers teach the young boys to hunt game
On the flat, acrid planes of the Sudan
Pay attention, father said
Boys listened to their fathers

Fighting broke out nearby
And soon
There was less food
And less water than before
Many boys left their homes
So that their mothers would not be giving them
The only wheat-flour maize from their own bowl
For none would be left

Perhaps a hundred boys walked away from their villages
They walked
And walked
And walked
A thousand miles they walked
At night they slept under a blanket of a yellow moon and stars

One night a lion came
And ate two boys
It was God’s will said the boys
But the boys asked God why
There was no answer

At day they crossed a wide flowing river
A crocodile ate more boys
The boys said it was God’s will
And walked on

They ate cold wet mud in an effort to keep death at bay
The boys walked
They walked
And walked

The boys arrived at Kukuma
A camp for people who had no where else to go
And many people said
These boys are lost
They are The Lost Boys of the Sudan
But each boy’s spirit called out –
« I know who I am
And where I come from. »

The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna’s Message to Humanity

The messages within the Bhagavad Gita are often subtle, but most certainly they are profound and enduring. The preface by Eknath Easwaran helps the reader to understand the text that is the Bhagavad-Gita by explaining Indian philosophy, the context of the story, and the challenges associated with translation of the text. It should be noted that Easwaran himself translated the Bhagavad-Gita in this book. Easwaran seems to be fully aware that one cannot easily enter the world of Eastern thought without some understanding of the language and its associated concepts. At the end of the book, Easwaran provides a glossary of words translated from the Sanskrit.

Moreover, he offers detailed information in the notes section about certain translations to render fuller meaning to the reader who is not a Sanskrit scholar. Easwaran illumines the essence of Krishna’s teaching in the Bhagavad-Gita, and helps us to see that the war between the Pandavas and the Kauravas is not meant to be viewed literally; rather, it is a metaphor for the struggle within, that is the struggle for self-mastery (2000, p. xix).

In the forward, Easwaran hypothesizes that the seeds of Hinduism date back as far as 3000 B.C.E. Easwaran states: “Images of Shiva as Yogeshvara, the Lord of Yoga, suggest that meditation was practiced…a millennium before the Vedas were committed to an oral tradition” (p. xiv). The Vedas were eventually written down beginning in 1200 BCE approximately (Higgins, 2001, p. 42). Easwaran notes that “only the Vedas (including their Upanishads) are considered shruti, based on direct knowledge of God. All other Indian scriptures—including, by this criterion, the Bhagavad Gita—are secondary, dependent on the higher authority of the Vedas” (2000, p. xvi). However,
Easwaran argues that the Bhagavad-Gita, written between 200 B.C.E. and 400 C.E. is also a great and sacred scripture akin to an Upanishad. He bases his argument on the fact that, according to Hindu tradition, the Bhagavad-Gita was also compiled by the sage Vyasa (p. xvi). Easwaran states that Vyasa was a rishi or “seer,” and that the seers of India were those who “analyzed their awareness of human experience to see if there was anything that was absolute” 

Easwaran accurately characterizes Indian thought as a perennial philosophy. In other words, that which is true continues and remains true throughout time. Easwaran proposes that, within the Bhagavad-Gita, “there is an infinite, changeless reality beneath the world of change” . According to Vedic thought, our everyday experience is maya or an illusion (Higgins, 2001, p. 41). Thus, that which is true cannot be seen or touched. According to the Samkhya school, both consciousness and nature are real (p. 36).According to this branch of Hinduism, then, mind and matter are both real. Both Vedic thought and Samkhya thought are unified in the belief that Brahman is “the supreme reality underlying all life”(Easwaran, 2000, p. 112). Within Hindu thought, we can see “the One underlying the many, the Eternal beneath the ephemeral” (p. xxiv). A passage in the Bhagavad-Gita that illustrates this view is when Lord Krishna says to the warrior Arjuna “the body is mortal, but he who dwells in the body is immortal and immeasurable” (p. 10).

The Bhagavad-Gita consists of a poetic dialogue between the avatar Krishna and the warrior Arjuna. Krishna subtly and artfully conveys his wisdom to Arjuna. In one passage, Krishna says:

I am the father and mother of this universe, and its grandfather too; I am its entire support. I am the sum of all knowledge, the purifier…I am the goal of life, the Lord and support of all, the inner witness, the abode of all. I am the only refuge, the one true friend; I am the beginning, the staying, and the end of creation; I am the womb and the eternal seed. I am heat; I give and withhold the rain. I am immortality and I am death; I am what is and what is not .

Krishna’s message to Arjuna, and to humanity, is to turn oneself toward Brahman, and to follow a spiritual path while we inhabit a physical self in this physical realm.

How do we lead a spiritual life? In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna directs us to practice karma-yoga or “the way of action; the path of selfless service” . Krishna advises Arjuna to “give freely. Be self-controlled, sincere, truthful, loving, and full of the desire to serve…show goodwill to all” . At a glance, this advice would appear to contradict Krishna’s counsel to Arjuna that he move forward in battle against the Kauravas. Arjuna hesitates and questions why he should harm his kin, his neighbors, and his friends.

Krishna tells Arjuna he must live in accordance with his dharma, or “duty; the universal law that holds all life together in unity” (p. 113).Krishna says to Arjuna: “Considering your dharma, you should not vacillate. For a warrior, nothing is higher than a war against evil” (p. 11). Viewed from the parameters of Western thought, arriving at an understanding of dharma can seem rather elusive.

To understand dharma, one must also understand the related concept of detachment. We must act without attachment to a particular outcome or interest associated with jiva, the individuated self. The reason we must do so is that we are also Atman, “the supreme Self, which is identical in everyone” (Higgins, 2001, p. 47). 

Krishna’s message is that we are more than our physical self. We are Atman, and we continue on after death. Krishna says that “the Self cannot be pierced by weapons or burned by fire; water cannot wet it, nor can the wind dry it. It is everlasting and infinite, standing on the motionless foundations of eternity” .Attachment to a specific outcome is irrelevant, for we are always Atman, and thus a part of Brahman, regardless of any temporal circumstance.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna says, “human nature is made of faith. Indeed, a person is his faith” . A primary message within the Bhagavad-Gita is that, although we apparently exist in a material world, our being-in-the-world transcends a merely physical existence. Through bhakti, or devotion, we come closer to living a life that is spiritually based. Each of us is a spiritual being, and it is shraddha or faith that brings forth our humanity.

To summarize, the Bhagavad Gita invites us to contemplate the profound and poetic words that are the Bhagavad-Gita. Eknath Easwaran aptly assists the reader to move toward an understanding of the text through a careful use of language that does not rely upon literal translations from Sanskrit into English. Instead, Easwaran creates a context for understanding, and he asks the reader to disengage from fixed paradigms that may limit understanding. The Bhagavad-Gita is best read, and reread, for with each reading, a previously hidden message unfolds and reveals itself. And there is great beauty and meaning to be found within the Gita.

Bread on the making of a terrorist

He said I had no heart.  I refused him bread.

I had just finished a cup of coffee and was buying sweet bread and curd to take back to my two dollar a night Calcutta hotel room when he approached and started telling me in an oblique way that he had no money.  As I finished my purchase and was about to leave he came out with it and asked me to buy him bread.  I said no.  He replied that he was not asking for a hundred dollars, just a small loaf of bread, eight or ten rupees.

I looked at him closely.  About sixteen or seventeen years old, strong, healthy looking, all his limbs, not the usual reeking, scabrous infirmities one sees on the endless procession of Indian beggars that harangues one throughout the day.  Not even thin or undernourished; a bit shabby, obviously down and out but not any more so than ninety-five percent of the other inhabitants of the neighborhood.  Again I said no.

His eyes blazed.  Hate or hunger?  He was angry and I was irritated.  Irritated for being put in this position again; irritated because I was being detained and had things to do; irritated because he thought that I was rich when I was living close to the edge myself;  irritated because he asked for so little to keep body and soul together and I knew that what he asked for would not help  him  one  wit; and irritated because there was absolutely nothing I could really do for him except buy him a piece  of  bread  which  would  not  solve  his problem.

I turned to go and bumped into an enormous fat lady wrapped in a diaphanous pink sari whose eight yards of cloth was unable to conceal her massive mounds of quivering flesh.  Fat slob, I thought as I apologized, a dainty, dancing hippopotamus out of Walt Disney’s Fantasia.  Another twice born, no doubt, carrying her poundage like so much gold from her last incarnation, snug in the belief that the gods have favored her by bequeathing favors denied to others because she deserves them.  And what does she do with them? Stuffs herself.

I took a deep breath.  My irritation was reaching its peak and I didn’t want to blow it.  Just get out of here, I said to myself, get back to your room, you’ve had enough of this wretched city and its people for one day.

“A few Rupees!  Why don’t you buy me bread?” It was more of a demand than a question, a command rather than an appeal.  I turned around and looked him in the eye.

“A few Rupees?” I said.  “Do you know how many times a day I’m asked for a few Rupees? I’m not rich.  As a matter of fact, strange as it might seem to you, I’m poor and have to count my money like everyone else.  Get a rickshaw, shine shoes, sell newspapers or dope, use your imagination but stop bugging me and every other westerner who saves his pennies so he can visit this god-forsaken country.  I’m a guest here; you ought to be feeding me.”  With that I turned and walked off.  Hardhearted bastard, I thought to myself.

The next day I passed him on the street.

“You have no heart”, he said as he walked by.

“No heart”, I mumbled to myself as I continued down the garbage-strewn cobblestones, still pungent with the effluvium of the day’s offerings that its residents deposit in the open gutters outside their hovel doors.

No heart.  What is it inside of me that bleeds for you and every other empty, aching belly and outstretched hand in this miserable land? What is it that cries at the sight of bloated and emaciated children picking through refuse heaps for a mouthful of someone’s discarded swill?  What is it that screams at the inequity and venality of a lopsided and lunatic system that allows its people to slowly starve a thousand deaths as it polishes a bomb it claims is there to protect the very people it’s killing?  Better to drop it on them and rid yourself of the problem, stop your moral masturbation and make it easier for all concerned.  You have cut the testicles off your men; why not kill off your beggars?

I have a heart, my friend.  My problem is I have too much heart.  If I had no heart I would buy you the bread you so need, salve my conscience, soothe my guilt and walk away feeling generous and holy, smug with the pride of having given to my less fortunate brother, despicable though he may be – though that, of course, makes the act even more holy, more righteous since it’s so difficult to do.

So what to do?

Shall I give you my few rupees, you beggars and thieves?  Shall I give you my shirt?  Shall I carry it to its logical conclusion and join you, entwine my starving body with yours so we can both die on the street?  If I had the faintest, the tiniest, the most embryonic belief or hope that it would help you, I would.  But the world would just laugh and shake its head as it has since Christ and Gandhi did that very thing.  It would do no good; it has done no good in the past and will do no good in the future unless you are of one mind and one heart, Mother Teresa notwithstanding.

So I don’t feed you, my brother.  But maybe by my refusal I give you another kind of nourishment, maybe I implant in you that seed of anger that can one day soon grow into a fully blown hate; a hate for injustice, a hate for intolerance, a hate for apathy; a hate for all things that are robbing you of what is rightfully yours; a hate for the greed of your elected officials whose consciousness is but an extension of our own; a hate for the callousness, arrogance and indifference of the rich for the poor, the white for the black; a hate for all things that keep you in your chains and your bellies empty; a hate to get the fires burning that will destroy the prejudice and superstitions that keep you locked in the world of hopeless illusion, a world of your own making.                       

And we can’t blame them either because them is us, another version of yourself that was subjected to the same machine, the same conditioning process, the same fear and ignorance.  You are responsible for your own lives, your own empty bellies and for the changes that must come about to fill those bellies.  And you who are so strong, so young and seething with energy are the ones that should be making those changes, not the old men who sit sleeping and farting in congress.  It matters not if you or I die in the process, what matters is your awareness of the freedom that has been sucked from you and your willingness to reclaim that freedom at whatever cost.

Don’t wait for the white man, the rich man, the Brahmin, the corporations and government to suck your completely dry.  Are you going to continue to forfeit your freedom to your keepers who have no intention of granting you equality?  Do you believe you are on a lower rung of the karmic and evolutionary ladder as your master’s claim?  Do you believe that you deserve your miserable existence?  Do you believe you were born hungry and must die hungry in order to expiate your past sins and return as a fat man?  If you believe it, so be it, because you are what you believe you are, be it beggar or god man.   But don’t delude yourself that the white man or the rich man is your superior in any way, shape or form.  They are not and way down in the depths of their blackest of black hearts they know they are not.  They are afraid and they are clever and they are guilty before God and the whole world, and they know it as much as they try to deny it and sweep it into the folds of their “cultivated” indifference.  They tremble with fear yet their pride and arrogance continues to sow hatred and greed throughout the world.

Your must set fire to this world of their making for they will never relinquish it willingly.  They have no solutions for the sickness they have foisted upon their fellowman, no remedy for the emasculation and vampirization of their weaker brother.  They are criminals, gangsters intent only on fulfilling their own appetites and desires.  Make puja before the alter of your own dignity, not tin gods, politicians and educated nincompoops who pretend to serve while stuffing their own pockets and bulging bellies.

The only thing that can fight money and power is more money and power – or blood.  I would like to say spirit, love, ahimsa, metta and all the other noble ideals that man has espoused and aspired to since time began for him when the first two stood facing each other, eye to eye, and the world began to shudder, ever so slightly in the beginning but which now has become such a roar it threatens to annihilate all of us.  And we, you and me, are responsible; we are the preservers as well as the destroyers and it is only by our own awareness and action that we can save ourselves.

So I don’t feed you my friend because I don’t want you to starve.  I offer no solutions because I have none: every man must find his own.  But I offer you my observations, for whatever they are worth, of a cancer that somehow must be cut out if you want to share in the earth’s enormous abundance.  You had no choice in what you were given – God knows it wasn’t very much – but you do have a choice in what you do with what you were given.

We become beggars and thieves when we think like beggars and thieves.  Mind has imprisoned you, and only you can slay your jailer, only you can knock him down and take the reins of your own life.  And if you die in the process, well, at least you will no longer be hungry.

I pray, my Indian brother and sister, that I will have the strength to refuse you bread the next time we meet.

Many years have passed since that young man asked me for bread.  I have thought of him often.  I think of him now.  He is still out there but now fully grown, still with anger, still with rage but now more focused, more determined than ever to get not only his share, either in this life or  the next, but to make us, those who gave birth to his rage, his hunger, pay the price for his years of pain.  His name is Godse, Osama, Yassar, Mohammad Atta; he has many names and is from many countries; sometimes he wears a turban, sometimes a baseball cap but within the folds of his garment he carries the bomb or the bullet and within his heart the bitter bile of retribution.  Watch for him for he is everywhere, and let us ponder deeply the next time we are asked for bread.

The Violent Bear It Away: Flannery Will Get You Somewhere

« From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent bear it away.” -Matthew 11:12 1; the basis for Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away. 

“I vote Republican, I worship Martha Stewart and I don’t mind being naked.” -Haley Cope, Olympic swimmer, preparing to make money off of Playboy’s “Women of the Summer Games” edition, airbrushed in the buff.

“My friends with the big cars and boats are not evil or stupid. They are just thoughtless.” -John Blair, “A Culture of Waste,” CounterPunch. Dedicated to Flannery O’Connor (who died 40 years ago on August 3rd). And to all of those who helped her reach us, like Sally and Robert Fitzgerald and John Huston.

Respecting the quotations above: If only she were obese, this Haley Whore, she’d be oh-so All-American. No mystery, all self-seeking, greed, envy and worse, not unlike O’Connor’s own pyknic character Cope in “A Circle in the Fire.” And Blair’s evil? You don’t have to subscribe to Bush’s polar opposite of “good,” or Flannery O’Connor’s biblical interpretation either, for that matter, in order to characterize the profound depravity of Blair’s friends as something other than “thoughtless.” One of FO’C’s great contributions was her inexorable moral stance regarding what plagues us; the very American “do your own thing” was anathema to her. But violence was not.

I’ll never forget the premiere of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey in New York City. For the first time in my cinematic consumer’s life I encountered a creature from Outer Space that had neither two eyes, two ears, etc., nor spoke perfectly grammatical English. It was from a different realm, that Monolith. It was truly an enigma. And remained so throughout the film.

Enter writer/religious absolutist Flannery O’Connor, advocate of Mystery (not literary mysteries), from Savannah and Millidgeville, Georgia, the latter the capital of Dixie prior to the Civil War.

When the U.S. was celebrating its Bicentennial, and the CIA was assisting South African-backed rebels in Angola (see the great John Stockwell’s In Search of Enemies account of how Kissinger came to give the green light), I discovered Flannery in the most mysterious way.

I had been in and around Millidgeville as a kid visiting Rebel Relatives in my 50s summers, and I had taught literature for over a decade on the college level by the mid-seventies…but, oddly, I had never heard of O’Connor; particularly strange since one of my academic mentors was from the Deep South.

Then—at the age of thirty-four—I got involved in a scam of sorts on the grounds of my old alma mater, Columbia University. Well, not exactly my (M.A.) alma mater, as I had graduated from Teachers College, Columbia University not the Ivy League wonder; nevertheless, there were shared commons between 116th and 120th Streets, and some of the faculty wore two hats. There was a sense of community.

The scam? I was matriculating (impersonating an Israeli who had hired me to complete his degree) as a major in Comparative Literature. Wondrous program they had at that time. And it was then and there some professor introduced me to Flannery’s A Good Man Is Hard To Find. The heavens opened up. I felt like Balboa’s unbalanced brain from Keats’ “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer.” I was introduced not to just another Southern literary phenom, but to a Genuine Mystery, like Kubrick’s Monolith.

Very early on she said that the look of her fiction was “going to be wild…it is almost of necessity going to be violent…because of the discrepancies it seeks to combine.” 

With her strains of anti-communism, racism and severe religious credo, I’m sure Las Vegas would have offered up daunting odds that I’d have zero to do with her…beyond the usual academic fandango. But I fell deeply in love with the spirit of her earthy, earthly message, its universal importance*.

*I ask activists who don’t “get it” the first time around to stick with her, as the nature of her art and thought almost demand special perseverance of readers today…additional encounters. Alice Walker’s superb essay “Beyond the Peacock” (in In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens) will help readers get past some inconsequential biographical details.

Flannery, who ranks among the foremost writers of American fiction, was raised as a devout Roman Catholic; her short stories are considered model paradigms of the form. The inattentive reader, your typical American atheist—rushing to explain everything, feeling one-up on sociological matters and all else—will come away from her work exuding a superior air…in this age of secular superficiality and abominations taken for granted. But the open activist—truly concerned with discovering something new—will rise above the temptation to make the easy criticism, and be rewarded with “wild surmise,” epiphanies.

Thirty-nine is young. That’s when Martin Luther King left us. Ditto for Malcolm. Ditto for Blaise Pascal*. And…Flannery never reached forty because of lupus erythematosis, a mysterious disease if ever there was one. Not often talked about, it’s more common than both cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy. It arises when the system produces antibodies which attack its own connective tissues. The term lupus (wolf) is applied because the patient frequently manifests a “wolf-like” appearance. The disease—which claimed Flannery’s father when he was only forty-five—is characterized by progressive physical degeneration. It is significant that Flannery labored under this horror—worked with it wracking her from within—during the last twelve years of her life.

*Pascal’s claim that “all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber” did not apply to Flannery. She worked in very tight quarters (Don’t get me started with Emily Dickinson!), her focus fed by faith.

After studying the responses to my recent article titled “Pilger’s Preferences and a Zinn Zinger: Calling for Liberators, Not Librarians,” I have come to the conclusion that those wishing to bring about change in society are in dire need of something more than the graphs, diatribes and hysterical, historical stats that dominate leftist circles. I am convinced that everyone needs to slow down—for just an existential moment*—and contemplate The Mystery at hand.

*The tick, tick, ticking of one headline after another grabbing our attention does distract us from The Eternal. One could be as radically accomplished as having eliminated every trace of capitalism, up on every daily bit that Google has to offer…and have gone nowhere, know nothing.

If that’s too cryptic for you, let me clarify—while I can—in this tribute to the inexplicable. To wit, the most persistent features among “progressives” (particularly the ABB crowd) AND those more radical are…their alienation, isolation and separateness respecting man’s condition.

They believe in progress; they are convinced that man can have a handle on what sails/what can float…and that they have their hands on the rudder. There’s a lack of humility running rampant, and activists are not truly connected with their colleagues, their opponents, “the unfortunates” they’re trying to help or The Natural Order. There is deep spiritual emptiness in our quarters.

They believe only in what they can see.

Shirley Ann Grau, Eudora Welty and Flannery O’Connor all “have an essential sense of mystery, a special awareness and belief in invisible things” for those of you who want additional leads in this regard. 3 Vine Deloria Jr.’s God Is Red provides an introduction toMystery from a completely different perspective; I’d say this Native American angle is indispensable. In a brief review of Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, Flannery delineates the principle of creative insight; prophetic vision, whether achieved by the poet or the scientist, is born of the attempt to “penetrate matter until spirit is revealed in it.”

The mundane, pedestrian mentality we run across in the activist community is cocksure of itself, and allows for nothing that can’t be counted. Quantitative Analysis rules. Flannery is as firm as any of our fixed and frozen leftists—moral neutrality is not characteristic of her work—but her stances are not derived from pride or intellectual masturbation.

Like her beloved peacocks which she raised in Millidgeville, she saw something in the distance, transcended immediate confusion and imminent ruin; peacocks, in case you didn’t know, are known for not scurrying in the presence of an approaching car when crossing the road*.

*See her marvelous “The King of the Birds” in Sally and Robert Fitzgerald’s Mystery and Manners, and delight over the unparalleled beauty in the opening two paragraphs of “The Displaced Person.” That latter work is, arguably, the best place for activists to start…if delving into her creations cold. “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” (my introduction), “Parker’s Back” (FO’C’s last story) or Flannery’s personal favorite, “The Artificial Nigger,” are also excellent options.

For Flannery, rational explanation and logical interpretation always took a back seat to the fact that what we do not understand is infinitely more important than what we know.

As Arnold Weinstein points out in A Scream Goes Through The House,

« The religious vision that fuels O’Connor’s art is savage: it reminds us that the sacraments of baptism and the eucharist are inexorably corporeal, and that the body—far from being ‘God’s temple’ in the traditional sense—is a carnal mystery beyond our knowing. »

Which brings us to bodily violence as it is manifested on this earth.

O’Connor’s view on the subject has the potential to replenish juices. We need a rejuvenation vacation…so that we can return to the barricades with stronger resolve, and have a better shot at results. As it is, it is clear that “progressives” are flailing in the wind, destined to advance millemetres only, understanding too little. When it comes to violence, activists can do no more these days than trot out the usual suspect arguments—pro and con—placing misrepresentations of MLK, Gandhi, and a few far out Far Eastern ascetics against a backdrop of Ward Churchill, the RCP and the Animal Liberation Front.

Other angles can be found in a review of Southern fiction.

William Styron’s The Long March emphasizes how the accretion of violence in the twentieth century and the deadening of conscience and sensibility was created from almost uninterrupted warfare. Faulkner—in several works—pans what passes for progress, pointing out how it’s necessarily produced violence. Flannery (in Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away), on the other hand, shows us that our violence reflects a restlessness, a divine madness, which can be satisfied only with God*. Robert Penn Warren leads his characters to the same threshold as Flannery, but he inevitably “stops them short,” offering knowledge as a palliative, a legitimate alternative to redemption.

*Those of you who recoil at being forced here to contemplate the Holy Ghost can relate simply by substituting the notion of Almighty Mystery. The devil assumes a role quite similar to that of the bad angel in a medieval morality play in The Violent Bear It Away; we all can reflect on our own experiences with people, drawing secular conclusions that parallel the religious framework in which Flannery’s characters are firmly ensconced, avoiding the need to adopt her terminology, her particular belief system.

Flannery’s view is that violence is inevitable given our common human condition. And—to extrapolate—talk about whether or not to consider embracing violence as a tactic is meaningless…since there is a life force that cannot be controlled in the context of our faithlessness, a momentum exacerbated by well-meaning, atheistic existentialists.

Violence inheres in the fate of America, bearing overwhelming guilt from the past “when the dream of Eden was destroyed by slavery both on Southern farms and in Northern factories.” 6 It is the test by fire that all mankind must endure, according to Flannery. Our struggle with Nature (which includes one another) involves complicated/conflicting moral demands which subject us all to violent confrontation. We cannot avoid it, given our unwillingness to abandon The God of Analysis.

Like with the schoolteacher in The Violent Bear It Away, every living thing is turned by our brains “into a book or a paper or a chart.” The charted, reflexively, are locked into a violent response. The nonviolent ideals of activists are permitted no entry here.

As Arnold Weinstein notes, in talking about Flannery’s “The Life You Save May Be Your Own, “…human behavior often remains a mystery. O’Connor, more even than most writers, honors mystery, regards human motive as opaque; her characters apply the thin grids of reason to their lives (just as we do when we read her stories), but those lives are invariably fitful, animated by dark, imperious, and entirely unpredictable forces.” In her work the revelatory and the traumatic are inseparable because grace and horror (or grace as horror) can pop out at any moment.” 7 The italics are mine.

It would be great if everyone could take their eyes off of the sociological prize for a moment, and allow Mystery its proper place.

What is Mystery? By Flannery’s own definition, it’s “what is left after everything else has been explained.” It resides in the wordless regions where activists do not trek. But it holds a key, arguably…The Key.

The first place to start, perhaps, is to dispense with the hackneyed phrases found in Flannery’s “Good Country People”: “Nothing is perfect. » “That is life!” “Other people have their opinions too.” A tall order, considering the loose sense of what freedom means in our country. But the violence in our society cannot be quelled without accosting those hackneyed Prime Time platitudes.

Like with the youngsters’ rage in her “A Circle of Fire,” American adults must face “the blank eyes of boys who can imagine a parking lot where…precious trees now stand,” outcasts in a world that affords little. Boys and girls who, blinded, can still smell our sickness; they “snarl like caged, mistreated animals.” Possessiveness and its false correlative “progress” are leading to our destruction. Exclusivity and emptiness, as per her class conscious “Greenleaf,” are driving us over the edge.

And yet we permit capitalism and corporate values to rule our lives in the name of our having to allow freedom of choice, in the name of more is better, and…so on. The minute we come up against overwhelming numbers looking askance at our protestations, we back up. We back up because we have no backbone when it comes to values. We are the product of popularity-based/convenient actions, bamboo bending with the prevailing winds, eyes on something other than The Eternal.

The brutality and savagery in works like Flannery’s “The River” cut through all conventional progressive concepts to underscore the notion that religion of some sort is necessary to reorder human life. The pleasantness of politically correct respectability has zero to do with man’s need for redemption in Flannery’s eyes. Hunger strikes, allowing one’s head to be bashed in at the barricades, etc. will count for nought without an attendant honoring of a deeper motivation than simply doing good works.

One’s place in the scheme of things must be taken stock of, must be felt.

When life produces what the intellect labels as Evil we may confront it violently, as per Joseph Campbell’s “The Mythology of Love,” as long as Christ’s “Love your enemies” is not lost in the shuffle…along with our humanity. 9 In the spirit of everything from the Egyptian Book of the Dead‘s “On Coming Forth By Day In The Underworld,” the early Gnostic Gospel According to Thomas, and Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. In terms of our being One with All.

Our challenge is not to rid the world of Evil, regardless of whether or not we use violent tactics in contending with it. The very use of the word may serve as an impediment for the average secular reader, and it may encourage the (traditional) religiously oriented soul to think in the wrong direction. Nevertheless, our acknowledgment of our part in all of life’s horror must be forthcoming…as we cannot address it otherwise.

Flannery, at the end of the day/to the end of her days, underscored the fact that we are sadly asked to “form our consciences in the light of statistics,” establishing the relative as absolute. Without question, she saw from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy.

For the masses of activists—with a resolve of spiritual purpose at least a notch down from Flannery’s point of departure, to say the least—we must deal with the fact that for the last few centuries we have been operating in a culture which has found no cause for adopting Redemption in any form, no healthy perspective on secular Manichaeism and a predisposition to embrace the repugnant as normal or tolerable.

Just as Flannery felt the need to shout to the spiritually hard of hearing, and draw huge startling figures for the spiritually near-blind, many activists who face hostile opposition (holding different fundamental beliefs than they do) will feel compelled to adopt violence.

If you have any doubts with regard to this, just think about what’ll come down as soon as typical Americans like Cope and Blair’s buddies  are finally confronted with the fact that their daily life IS stupid and evil…and not merely thoughtless or different. 


Mr. Cuneo writes poetry based upon subjects that touch his heart.  He has attended Niagara, Fordham, Chapman, and George Washington Universities, and has advanced degrees in European History and Education. His diplomas from The Defense Language Institute, Monterey, are in Italian and Portuguese. Mr. Cuneo has lived in Italy, Germany, and Portugal and has been a teacher and university instructor.

The Sinking Value of the Wal-Mart Experience

I have been thinking about writing an editorial on Wal-Mart for several months. Rarely does a personal experience as a consumer get me to write so much as a complaint letter. This commentary is the exception. I just tried to exchange a defective pair of black leather tennis shoes to my local Wal-Mart and had the store manager (Mr. Patel at the Fayetteville, Tennessee store) try to blame the defect on me. He refused to make the exchange after telling me that they personally inspect every shoe. Somebody obviously missed the pair I bought. I got angry over his implication that I was conning Wal-Mart for a pair of shoes and the time I wasted. It was not the lost money.

I am only out about $30, tax and all, which is certainly no big deal. It was the first time I had ever tried to exchange anything I ever bought. Like most men, I have a garage full of purchases that should have been exchanged. However, for most men, admitting to a store clerk that we made a bad-purchasing decision is sort of like asking for directions when lost driving. It just almost never happens. If the shoes had not been blatantly defective, I would still own them. I bought 20 pairs of the same type of shoe from Wal-Mart over the past 6 or 7 years. Men are creatures of habit.

While wasting around an hour at the customer service counter, I started thinking about all those abused customers of Corporate chain stores all over America that are stuck with bad purchases of largely, imported, low quality merchandise in dollar amount to low to take to court. Most do not have talk radio shows or widely published newspaper columns to vent their frustrations. All they can do is boycott the store like I am doing to Wal-Mart from this day forward.

It takes the collective action of hundreds of thousands of consumers to really hurt Corporate giants like Wal-Mart. I never liked Wal-Mart’s antiunion attitudes clear back to the good ole days of Sam Walton. Sam was nice to his customers but really hated unions. I limited my purchases somewhat as a result but still bought some things because of convenience.

I, also, limited my purchases there because Wal-Mart hurts many local businesses when it moves into a community. You can almost see the slow death of small town commercial centers, as one family-owned store after another goes out of business, once Wal-Mart moves into town. The boarded up stores in small towns all over the South are testimony to the commercial power of Wal-Mart. This experience is spreading nationally as Wal-Mart expands geographically and into the grocery business.

In the Sam Walton days, the damage of this retailing giant’s expansion was lessened by some company policies. Wal-Mart hired many local people and that partially offset the loss of jobs by local family-owned retailers. The jobs did not pay well and did not have the best of benefits, but they were still jobs. Now, Wal-Mart has started installing self-checkout counters instead of hiring enough employees to provide quick service. They are not alone in taking this approach to cost cutting.

I urge everyone to stop by the customer service of any giant Corporate retailer from Wal-Mart to Home Depot to file complaints about them using self-checkout counters instead of hiring enough workers. Threaten to take your business elsewhere. Ask the employees for complaint forms.

We have lost far to many jobs to Corporate purchasing decisions to stock cheap, poor quality imported merchandise instead of buying American made goods! Just in the less than 4 years of the George W. Bush’s Administration, we have lost existing jobs and failed to create new jobs (in order to keep up with natural population growth) to the tune of a 7 million job shortfall! While the rich get richer, the rest of us struggle trying to get by. Millions of Americans have been forced out of the job market entirely (living on family or welfare). Millions of Americans are living at the very edges of our society and the number is growing. This is the result of Corporate decisions and government policy influenced or controlled by Corporate political and economic power.

The advertising hook that first made me become a Wal-Mart customer was their highly promoted “BUY AMERICAN” commitment. Finding American made merchandise in Wal-Mart and other Corporate retail chains has become a real challenge for customers.

I remember when Wal-Mart had a policy of opening more checkout counters when a certain specific number of customers were waiting in line. They do not seem to care how long the customer waits now if they can hire fewer workers based on my personal experience. Wal-Mart was once known for treating their customers well (if not exactly doing the same with their employees despite their advertising claims.)

In my opinion, the customers and employees both need to stage a little public revolt against the top Corporate management. The workers need to unionize. The customers need to complain loudly and vote with their wallets. There are other stores (especially locally owned, family businesses) where you can get quality goods and personal service. I intend on spending my money in those places.

If getting burnt on a $30 pair of shoes finally gets me to do the right thing as a customer and a writer, it was worth it. As I drop them in the trash, I am smiling. See ya later, Wal-Mart!!!! 

The Republican Talk Radio « Big Lie »

It has always been known that more people will believe a lie, the bigger the lie is and the more often the lie is repeated. Talk radio as defined by the Republican Right mindset is completely based on lies. The entire way Republican Right talk show hosts present political events and issues are based on lies designed to deceive their listeners instead of educating them.

The Republican Right dominates talk radio entirely by using business pressure to keep Democrats, environmentalists, labor leaders, progressives and independent thinkers off the air. Arnie Arnesen in New Hampshire and Guy James in Florida are two of the most recent examples of Republican using business pressure to censor Democratic talk show programs.

Republican business leaders routinely organize advertiser boycotts to pressure the few independent radio station owners to remove local Democratic friendly talk shows from the air. Examples are everywhere for the past few decades. When the FCC removed the Equal Time Provisions and Fairness Doctrines from broadcasting (starting under Ronald Reagan), Republican Right fanatics, with huge amounts of money, targeted radio. The removed broadcasting restrictions should immediately be returned to American broadcasting law. Station owners are using the public airwaves free of charge for private profit. They should be required to serve the public interest by promoting fairness and balance in terms of political programming.

Talk radio was seen as a way to advance their political agenda while avoiding campaign finance laws and lobbying restrictions. Corporations and Republican Right local business leaders started using their advertising budgets to achieve political goals like stopping consumers from suing them, weakening labor law enforcement, fighting increases in the minimum wage, fighting environmental protection regulations, etc.

By gutting the monopoly ownership provisions, fewer and fewer business concerns began to own the stations and control broadcasting. The Republican Right « Big Lie » is that Democratic shows cannot gain large listening audiences. The second supporting lie is that advertisers will buy time on shows that gain large listening audiences regardless of their political content.

The Republican Right business community has used its political agenda funded by advertising dollars to change laws in order to make huge profits. They shifted the tax burden once carried by large corporations to individual middle class taxpayers. They advanced the « free trade » nonsense relentlessly until most Americans falsely believe that sending good paying jobs out of country and globalization are inevitable and not the result of deliberate policy choices by governments and large corporations acting together.

They have undermined traditional American political values. They have made money the dominant force in American politics instead of the average voters. They have lowered voter turn-out by making political discussions nasty and vicious. They created a climate that tolerates corruption, « no-bid » contracts and vote rigging.

The Republican Right talk radio shows have convinced many weak minded voters that Bush is essentially above the law. They convinced others that any criticism of Republican policies or Republican politicians is somehow un-patriotic. Shockingly, they have promoted a hatred of the poor even to some Christian listeners. They have sold government abuses as « common sense » even when those very same abuses caused our Founding Fathers to revolt against the oppressive government of King George during the American Revolution.

Radio station owners should have their broadcasting licenses revoked when they fail to promote diversity in political programming. They should be required by law to publicly report all politically motivated advertiser boycotts or threats. Listeners should be able to know about these attempts so they can boycott those businesses for their attempts at political censorship.

Our American freedom requires a free exchange of ideas. Those using our publicly owned airwaves should be required by law to advance that free exchange of ideas. They owe us that information in exchange for their huge private profits made from use of our airwaves. They should not be using our assets to manipulate us politically!

I urge everyone to send this commentary to your local newspaper, radio station, Chamber of Commerce and legislators. It is time for Democrats and independents to gain a voice on local radio. Anyone is welcome to publish this article in full anywhere.