Thursday, November 18, 2004

A Cool Moon

Moon Posted by Hello

The moon is pissed. I know because he stopped me outside my house tonight. He hung there like a smile, slung back, low, relaxed and so cool. He wore dark rimmed spectacles, burly mutton chop sideburns, poured low rise, hip hugging black pleather pants, while balancing a cigarette with a tremble on his lips. The smoke swirled past his torn RANCID t-shirt and circled Orion’s belt.

“Yo, dude. ‘Sup?” he says to me.

Dude? He is cool, there’s no denying that. He is low in the eastern sky, a crescent on his way to a new moon. He would barely get up off the horizon tonight and he was just feeling like a raw scab. He stretches back, draws a few puffs on the cigarette and waits for me to answer.

Then he tells me why he’s pissed. He’s tired of the sun being so everything. It rises, it sets. It’s the sun, no changes, no “phases”. He verbally creates air quotes by emphasizing the word “phases”.

He’s sick of the sun being the center of everything. Maybe he would just spin off and start his own solar system. When I explain this is not possible, that there are laws of physics, there is inertia to consider, he just spits. He doesn't care. He knows people. He has friends.

Take Saturn, for instance. Some traveling asteroid comes swinging along, knocks her up and before you know it, it’s wham-bam-thankee-maam there are a dozen moons. “She’s such a slut,” he says.
“Saturn?” I ask.
“Yeah, and she’s always has to show off the bling-bling.”
“The rings?” I ask.
“Yeah. Still those guys are my buddies. They would so totally follow me.”

I try to leave, but the moon will have none of that. He’s so pissed, his color even looks odd. More yellow than white tonight. He rants about the clouds, how they just cover for that slacker sun; how he’s often off chasing rainbows or things, and no one even knows. And all he does is give people cancer and start forest fires, destroy crops and create droughts. Still, everyone “ooohs” and “aahhhhs” whenever the sun enters or leaves the day.
If the moon had arms, I am certain he would be waving them about now.

He’s tired of depending on sunlight for his presence. On some days of the month, he hides to show up that big show off, but it’s hard to hide, so he has to show his face again.

“And look at this face!” the moon says exasperated. “Tell me if I don’t look like a thirteen year old in a chocolate factory!” It is the marks. It’s not easy getting dates with a face like this, he tells me. I know. I can relate. I tell him some things that I hate about the sun: how you can never really look at it. How it's always too bright and it always gets in the way when driving – especially east and west. The moon takes a deep breath and seems at ease.

He tells me to stay cool and have fun at the party. He is heading to a bodacious game of cranium with the Seven Sisters who really know how to party. He tells me about how when they drink too much they always try to start up a round of “strip-twister”. He tells me to get moving, I’ll be late. I thank him and leave.

The moon is coolness personified. The sun is a pretentious metrosexual always flaunting his knowledge of wines and the most gauche places to shop. But the moon drinks his beer with no glass and no twist off top either. The moon would never be caught drinking a Lite beer.

The sun gets all the press, but the moon is where everything happens; where the hidden comes out, only to be chased away again by the sun’s daylight brashness.

The moon is pissed tonight. Better stay clear if you see him. I’m off to my party, but man, is he ever cool.

M C Biegner 2004

Monday, November 15, 2004

A Lunar Eclipse

“THE BOSTON RED SOX ARE WORLD CHAMPIONS.” I wrote these words down on my scorecard just moments before the last out at Busch Stadium. I wanted to try them on for size and see how they looked. I stared at them in disbelief, fearing the ink would disappear as it dried, like that ink they sell on the last page of comic books.

I have been going to Red Sox games since I was in utero. My most vivid memory of my Dad is the one of him crying in front of the T.V. after the famed 1986 Bill Buckner episode. He cried like a baby for hours.

When the last out was made and the Red Sox fans stormed the field, I sat back in my box seat motionless. All at once I felt one great weight lift, while I felt another, more ominous one, descend. In the back of every Red Sox fan’s mind is that nagging belief that tomorrow they would find an error and disqualify the win; that perhaps the Supreme Court would step in and name the St. Louis Cardinals as 2004 World Series Champions. I rubbed the words I had just written on my card to see if they would come off. Maybe tomorrow, I thought, still not able to grasp the idea that the Red Sox had really won, it would all change. It was the corollary of the Langston Hughes poem: what happens to a dream realized?

I could not avoid these thoughts any more than I could have avoided the lunar eclipse that night. My Mom and Dad leaped the railings and bounded onto the field as though they were teenagers, hugging people they didn’t even know, repeating the mantra: “Can you believe it?” over and over.

I saw a kid who made the trip to St. Louis from Boston, with a shaved head painted red dancing with an old priest who wore a Red Sox cap backwards; I saw an elderly woman with a cane walking tortoise-like to find anyone to hug, stopping every few steps to raise her cane over her head and hoot, only to have her voice weakly blended into the commotion now on the field.

Still, I sat in my box seats, clutching the program, waiting to wake from this dream, taking it all in. After the T.V. crews finished the immediate interviews, they moved with stern purpose into the locker room to capture the mayhem as the players made their way into the clubhouse.

When I looked up at the freshly eclipsed moon, it seemed bleached, whiter than I have ever seen it before. It was a spotlight, I thought, bearing witness to one of nature’s most immutable laws being violated: the Red Sox winning a world championship.

As I scanned the few fans remaining in the seats, I spied one fan crumpled in a heap in the section next to ours. His clothing appeared as a lump and appeared dingy and wrinkled. I could make out no features of his face. Since he was still around after the game watching the celebration, I deduced that he must have been a Red Sox fan.

I made my way over to talk to him, perhaps share some game moments. When I sat down next to him, I realized that something was very odd. His clothing was not only dingy and gray but his hair, skin and face were various shades of gray as well. I moved closer and finally spoke to him. When he looked up, his face appeared as if he were a character on one of those old Movietone films you see on the History Channel. The gray appearance seemed to crackle with lines, just like the old reels used to. When he spoke, his voice had the static background one of these old films had too.
“Great game, huh?” he said to me.
He turned his face to me and in the moonlight I could finally see it clearly, but I did not believe it. His face was young, bulbous and boyish. He wore a flat gray newsies cap and was chewing on the stump of a big cigar in his mouth. I recognized the face at once and I was speechless.

“Yeah, well it was,” he said to me when I could not speak. “It was a good run, but now it’s over!” He bit the tip of the cigar off, looked away and spit. I knew who this man was. If I told you it was George Herman Ruth – the great Babe himself, sitting in this box seat, watching the proceedings, making small talk with me – you would think me crazy, but it was so, though I knew this was impossible.

“It was a good run, huh, kid? 1918. Those bums could never win a world series.” He looked up at me and gave a wink.
“You mean the curse?” was all I was able to say.
“Curse?” he laughed. “Don’t tell me you believe in that malarkey, do you?”

We both sat and watched the players and fans congratulate each other; the joy was abundant everywhere if you were a Red Sox fan. The air was thick with it.

“You know, I was a pretty good pitcher in my day,” he broke the silence between us. Of course I knew this. Everyone knew about Babe Ruth. Everyone knew about the curse. He told me about the deal that got him traded to the Yankees, how Harry Frazee had sold his contract to Jacob Rupert’s New York Yankees for $100,000 – which was a lot of money in that day - so he could finance his girlfriend’s Broadway singing career. “Think anyone remembers her now?” he chuckled.

When he spoke, there was a gleam in eyes, the kind of gleam a boy has; the kind of gleam these guys have chasing a little white ball around a field with gloves and sticks. He was from another age and I could tell by the way he spoke. He called women “dames”, and he used words like “swell” and “malarkey”. He lived in a time when people traveled by train; he lived in an age of river seekers, when people wanted to get at the core of things. He offered truth through the life of the hero. I knew about his personal life. I was aware of his voracious appetite for food, women and drink. But these are modern concerns. Today we want our gods like us to make us feel immortal. When Babe played on these diamonds it was about home runs; it was about creating large mountainous feats; it was about storytelling.

We watched the joy unfold in the lunar eclipsed moonlight for some time in silence after that. Finally I had to ask him the question. Why? Why after all these years did he remove the curse? Why?

He looked down at the floor of the box seat and played absentmindedly with his fingers. When he did speak, his teeth were tightly clamped around the cigar and he had to force the words out of his mouth. “I guess I have just become a hunter of more invisible game,” was all he said. He winked again, and tapped me with a rolled up newspaper he had in his baggy pockets.

“Besides, Ted Williams said he was going to bust me square in the nose if I didn’t! Boy, he is one ornery guy.”

The Babe stood up, stretched and turned to make his way up the aisle. I could see how large a man he was when he stretched. “Don’t take any wooden nickels, kid,” he said, and he was gone.

As I sat and looked out at the field, I could see security now clearing the fans. The players were all gone now, and Mom and Dad came by still radiating the buzz from that night. No one had seen me talking to the Babe; no one saw him get up and turn and walk up these steps and out the exit we were now walking. We followed the path where I had just seen Babe Ruth pass only moments earlier.

We drove back to the hotel that night, late. I didn’t read any papers or watch any T.V. I went to sleep wondering if gravity would still hold me down in the morning. After everything that happened this night, all things seemed possible.

MB 2004

Capital Punishment as Human Sacrifice

Capital Punishment as Human Sacrifice:
Using A Mythological Context

The moral arguments on both sides of the capital punishment debate generally revolve around its efficacy or its humanity. The institutionalized killing a member of a society, however, has some striking similarities in terms of the mythology to which the society adheres. My basic assertion is that capital punishment as a form of ritualized violence serves some of the same functions as human sacrifice has throughout human history.

Human sacrifice has existed in many forms from the very beginning of what we call “civilized life”.[i] The Aztecs perfected human sacrifice. In fact, the Aztec creation myth involves the sacrifice of the gods themselves, tearing out their own hearts to create the world.[ii] They believed the universe ran on energy called “tonally”. This energy was the animating force of the universe and it was believed to reside in human blood. Through the spilling of blood, the sacrifices kept the energy moving and, by default, kept the sun moving.[iii] Traditionally, in hunting cultures, “sacrifices were made as a gift or bribe to a deity that is being invited to do something for us or give us something.”[iv] In vegetal cultures, following the signs of nature, death was essential for rebirth. The idea of death as necessary in order for restoration of life was critical. It is this latter view which has a very strong resemblance to particular theories of human sacrifice as being “restorative” which I will discuss at greater depth a little later.

If we are to present evidence that capital punishment is a ritual enacting the secular mythology of its day, then some definitions are in order. What is ritual? What is myth? How are they related and how do they impact the mores of a culture? Rituals can be thought of as a kind of language,[v] which creates and affirms social interaction.[vi] They serve a collective need and serve as a tool of control on the part of those who held power as a justification to dominate others.[vii]

According to Joseph Campbell, myths serve four functions: a mystical function, a cosmological function, a sociological function, and pedagogical function. Campbell writes:
“The third function is the sociological one – supporting and validating a certain social order… It is this sociological function of myth that has taken over our world.[viii]

Claude Levi-Straus suggests that every culture has contradictions because every culture organizes knowledge into binary opposites – pairs of things – and these contradictions have to be reconciled logically[ix]. Myth functions in cultures to provide a logical model capable of overcoming such contradictions.[x] The relationship between myth and ritual becomes clear “when we take ritual for what it is; if we accept that the function is to dramatize the order of life… myth clarifies the order of life expressing itself in basic modes of behavior, especially aggression.”[xi] Levi-Straus believes that what gives myths an operational function is that the specific pattern described is timeless. It explains the present and the past as well as the future.[xii] Interestingly, Campbell’s description of myth as “an interior road map of experience, drawn by people who have traveled it”[xiii] seems to reinforce Levi-Straus’ view of the nature of myth.

Ritual and myth then are the spiritual language and roadmap a culture uses to define its own mores within the context of history and more importantly, within the context of its own perceptions of the universe and what it perceives as the “universal”.

What then is the modern mythology which is set as the backdrop for the modern day human sacrifice of capital punishment? What are the deities to whom the modern human sacrifices of these victims are made? If we broaden our understanding of myth, religion and ritual, if we presume that “the collective consciousness is the highest form of psychic life”[xiv] as Durkeim noted, then this modern mythology is not so hard to see. God, in Campbell’s words, is always culturally conditioned.[xv] As anthropologist Mary Douglas said long ago: “We shall not expect to understand religion if we confine ourselves to considering belief in spiritual beings however the formula may be defined.”[xvi] We must broaden our views of “deities”, “myth” and “ritual” if we wish to see examine such modern issues using an archetypal framework.

Take, for example, the early days of our nation. It has been suggested that Hamiltonian economic politics of its day had, as its aim, the “moral transformation of human beings”.[xvii] Abraham Lincoln argued that “blood sacrifice helped authenticate and give meaning to the institutions of the United States. To perpetuate institutions, Lincoln suggested that reverence for the law should become the ‘political religion’ of the nation, requiring that people ‘sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars’”.[xviii] The “religion” we are talking about here is not to be found only in institutions, but in the quality and tone of society. The mythology, the religion, the ritual to which human sacrifice is required may be understood as the complex representation of the social order, through which we learn transcendence.[xix] Seen in this way, it is the American “ethic” of liberty and justice to which we all owe allegiance, and to which we offer sacrifice to preserve the “order”. Such nationalization of civil society involves greater civic intolerance and possibly greater civic violence by those who challenge or fail to meet the criteria of membership and are likely to be disciplined and repressed.[xx] In the same way that sacrificial victims must meet the approval of the “deity” before being offered as a sacrifice, the judicial system appeals to theology as a guarantor of justice.[xxi]

As Durkeim wrote:
“What essential difference is there between an assembly of Christians celebrating the principal dates in the life of Christ, or of Jews remembering the Exodus from Egypt, or the promulgation of the Decalogue, and a reunion of citizens commemorating the promulgation of a new moral or legal system or some great event in the national life?”[xxii]

Consider the instances of lynchings of blacks in the south. Witnesses bear testimony that religion permeated such communal lynchings because the act occurred within the context of a sacred order, designed to sustain holiness. Ministers were often leaders of the lynch mobs, justifying the ritualistic hangings with the Bible and in the name of the honor of the South and the purity of southern women. In fact, there have been cases where organs from the hanged and burned victims were then passed around to bystanders to smell, or taste, not at all unlike the cases of cannibalism after ritualistic sacrifice found among the Aztecs and the Mayans.[xxiii]

This idea of a human sacrifice for the greater common good of the collective was illustrated in popular culture in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, arguably human history’s most famous human sacrifice. During the scene where the Jewish elders are trying to decide how to deal with the Jesus phenomenon, it is the head priest Caiaphus who sings, “We must crush him completely -So like John before him, this Jesus must die, For the sake of the nation this Jesus must die.”[xxiv] In Caiaphus’ view, the god Jesus was to be sacrificed to was that of the social order, to keep the Romans from further oppressing the occupied Jewish nation.

Freud wrote: “It is always possible to bind together a considerable number people in love, so long as there are other people left over to receive the manifestation of their aggressiveness.”[xxv] Rene Girard’s scapegoat/restoration theory suggests that ritualized violence (human sacrifice), is essential in bonding the social order, much as Freud suggests. Girard’s basic premise is that such ritualized violence curtails reciprocal violence and imposes a structure on the community through the ritualized sacrifice of some surrogate victim.[xxvi] This theory suggests that ritual violence is intended to reproduce the original act of violence. Girard says there is nothing “mythic” about the original act of violence, but its ritual imitation includes mythic elements.[xxvii]

It was Durkeim who pointed out that it is “through common action that society becomes self aware. The collective feelings and ideas that determine unity and character must be maintained at regular intervals.”[xxviii] Human sacrifice, in Girard’s view, was the way society repaired its social fabric at a perceived low social cost. It’s purpose was to restore harmony to the community.[xxix] Proponents of capital punishment site this sort of restoration as a defense of the practice.

In essence, it can be said then, that a sense of community arises from collective aggression.[xxx] It has been suggested, in fact, that turning violence toward one expendable victim is what made human culture possible.[xxxi]

Trudier Harris in her work on the lynchings of blacks, refers to a “transfer of guilt from the community to the scapegoat.”[xxxii] In this view of human sacrifice, ritual plays a role in social anxiety avoidance, fleeing certain realities a community cannot accept and thus negates.[xxxiii] But we must ask what are those realities? What anxieties is society attempting to avoid? Girard suggests these are normal anxieties, tensions and rivalries which are pent up within the community.[xxxiv]

Historically, it is believed that human sacrifice served as “a form of psychotherapy whose goal (was) to relieve a population’s post traumatic stress after a phenomenally huge natural disaster, especially floods.”[xxxv] At the core of this view of human sacrifice, whether through sacrificial killing or legal punishment, is the problem to forestall a series of reprisals against the perpetrators of the original violence.[xxxvi] Perhaps, as Girard writes, it is as simple as there being just an “underlying anxiety about the continuation of life in the face of death”,[xxxvii] which links back to how early hunting and agricultural societies viewed death. In agricultural societies, death was integral to the “restoration” of the earth in giving her bounty. In hunting cultures, death was seen as necessary to prolong life. This is not the commoditized view of the food chain we see in today’s culture. On some psychic level, these needs are still present. “Blood will have blood…prosperity must be paid for, that all who live and thrive must live and thrive by the death of something else.”[xxxviii] When one considers the nature of the prison-industrial complex and how whole industries have been created around the support of executions in this country, this last statement has special import.

In Western society, movies often reflect the modern mythology under which a people operate. Perhaps the most chilling visual image that portrays human sacrifice as it applies to the idea of “restoration” is from the movie Dead Man Walking. During the penultimate scene of the movie, as the brutal crime of Matthew Poncelet (Sean Penn) is being replayed for the viewer, we see him strapped to the gurney and executed. The imagery is startling as we see the original violence re-enacted and the ritualized violence paralleling the original, brutal violence. Perhaps, as Girard writes, “civilized life endures only by giving a ritual form to the brute force that still lurks in men.”[xxxix]

There is little question that capital punishment in it’s purest form is designed to elicit control over certain members of its society who do not conform to it’s basic tenets. Public hangings, for example were designed as demonstrations of the power of government.[xl] Those who have the power and control myths believe they are, in fact, producing social harmony.[xli] It is important to note that the Aztecs too, engaged in human sacrifice as a method of controlling and dominating their enemies.[xlii]

The “custom” of having the condemned speak their “last words” was an early attempt to have the victims themselves and their sacrifice serve to elaborate on the problem of social disorder. It provided insights to the general public about the origin of crime and directed a warning to spectators at the gallows.[xliii] This need to bolster and support the social order is consistent with a modern mythology which holds law, justice and to the extent that capital punishment may be class biased (the subject of another study), even social status as the “deity” to which we offer these human sacrifices.

Theorists such as Rene Girard suggest that the fact that no known human society has existed without practicing some sort of ritualized killing indicates that there are benefits to a society reaps that offers these sacrifices. These “ritualistic killings” maintain a status quo and even increase the social bond between individuals.

To the extent that myth is the “song of the universe” as Campbell would say, and that it is the language we all use to explain the contradictions of human society, as Levi-Straus would say, then I would suggest the need for human sacrifice is one to appease the deity of the culture. In earlier times, these deities were supernatural and were unfathomable in human terms. As we entered into the age of reason and science, these deities and the mythology that went along with them, needed to change in order to seem more culturally acceptable. With reason, the rule of law, and the greater common good, the era of individualism and democracy was ushered in. Along with these things, however, we brought along our need – still deeply rooted – to feel connected to powers larger than ourselves.

Rene Girard’s “restoration/scapegoat” theory sounds very much like simple vengeance. It was Ghandi who pointed out that the cycle of violence ends when the blow stops with the one courageous enough to not seek this restoration. If Girard’s theory were accurate, then what of the theory of non-violence? Can a society exist at all without violence? Is restorative violence the only way one binds to another in a society? I don’t believe so. Schopenhauer talks of a metaphysical realization which arises under crises that all life is one. [xliv]

By looking at the mythology of a culture, I believe it is possible to make the spiritual and psychological connections to the root causes of human sacrifice. By using a mythological context, we see can capital punishment with new eyes and with these new views, add to the ongoing dialogue.

[i] “On Progress and Irony: With Particular Reference to the Abandonment of Human Sacrifice” by Carl Pfluger, Hudson Review, Spring 1995

[ii] Discovery Channel Aztecs: Inside the Hidden Empire, “The Science Channel”,

[iii] “Human Sacrifice at Tenochtitku: Comparative Studies in Society and History,” by John Ingam, 1984, pp379-460.

[iv] The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, 1988, Apostrophe S. Productions, p 133.

[v] Homo Necons: Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth, by Walter Burkert, trans Peter Bing, University of California Press, p 29

[vi] Ibid. p. 23

[vii] “Ritual and Sacrifice”,, Instituto Nacional de Andropologia e Historia, Seminaro #8, Cento Historico, Cuachtemmoc, Mexico, 1997

[viii] The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, 1988, Apostrophe S. Productions, p 33

[ix] Structural Anthropology by Claude Levi-Straus, New York: Basic Books 1963-1976, trans Claire Jacobson, Brooke Grundfest Schopf, p xx

[x] Ibid. p xx

[xi] Homo Necons: Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth, by Walter Burkert, trans Peter Bing, University of California Press, p 33
[xii] Structural Anthropology by Claude Levi-Straus, New York: Basic Books 1963-1976, trans Claire Jacobson, Brooke Grundfest Schopf, p xx

[xiii] The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, 1988, Apostrophe S. Productions, Introduction p xvi
[xiv] The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, by Emile Durkeim, trans J.W. Swain, New York: The Free Press, 1954 p 444

[xv] The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, 1988, Apostrophe S. Productions, p 125

[xvi] “The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice”, by Donald G. Mathews, University of North Carolina,, Journal of Southern Religion

[xvii] The Good Society, by Robert Bellah, et al, 1991 New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

[xviii] The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln”, ed. Richard N. Current, Indianapolis: Bobs-Merill, 1967
[xix] “The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice”, by Donald G. Mathews, University of North Carolina,, Journal of Southern Religion

[xx] “On The Frontiers of Nation and Civil Society: War and the Character of Life”, by Kenneth G. Lawson, University of Washington, March 2000,

[xxi] Violence And The Sacred, by Rene Girard, trans Patrick Gregory, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, p 23

[xxii] The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, by Emile Durkeim, trans J.W. Swain, New York: The Free Press, 1954 p 427

[xxiii] “The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice”, by Donald G. Mathews, University of North Carolina,, Journal of Southern Religion

[xxiv] “This Jesus Must Die”, Andrew Lloyd Weber from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar, 1971

[xxv] Civilization and Its Discontents, by Sigmund Freud, trans James Strachey, New York: W.W. Norton, 1961, p 72

[xxvi] Violence And The Sacred, by Rene Girard, trans Patrick Gregory, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, p 4

[xxvii] Ibid p.249

[xxviii] The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life, by Emile Durkeim, trans J.W. Swain, New York: The Free Press, 1954 p 598

[xxix] On The Frontiers of Nation and Civil Society: War and the Character of Life”, by Kenneth G. Lawson, University of Washington, March 2000,

[xxx] Homo Necons: Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth, by Walter Burkert, trans Peter Bing, University of California Press, p 35

[xxxi] “Violence and the Sacred: Rene Girard’s Insights into Christianity”, by G.L. Bailie,

[xxxii] “The Southern Rite of Human Sacrifice”, by Donald G. Mathews, University of North Carolina,, Journal of Southern Religion
[xxxiii] Homo Necons: Anthropology of Ancient Greek Sacrificial Ritual and Myth, by Walter Burkert, trans Peter Bing, University of California Press, p 25
[xxxiv] Violence And The Sacred, by Rene Girard, trans Patrick Gregory, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, p 7

[xxxv] “The Rise of Blood Sacrifice and Priest Kinship in Mesopotamia”, Religion, 1992 vol 22 pp109-134

[xxxvi] Violence And The Sacred, by Rene Girard, trans Patrick Gregory, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, p 25

[xxxvii] Ibid. p16

[xxxviii] “On Progress and Irony: With Particular Reference to the Abandonment of Human Sacrifice” by Carl Pfluger, Hudson Review, Spring 1995

[xxxix] Violence And The Sacred, by Rene Girard, trans Patrick Gregory, Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, p 45

[xl]Ibid., p 27

[xli] On The Frontiers of Nation and Civil Society: War and the Character of Life”, by Kenneth G. Lawson, University of Washington, March 2000,

[xlii] “Ritual and Sacrifice”,, Instituto Nacional de Andropologia e Historia, Seminaro #8, Cento Historico, Cuachtemmoc, Mexico, 1997

[xliii] Rites of Execution: Captial Punishment and the Transformation of American Culture, by Louis P. Masur, New York: Oxford University Press, 1989, p 33

[xliv] The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers, 1988, Apostrophe S. Productions, p 138

POEM - A Murder of Crows

Ahead on some patched pavement
Is a black puddle of crows
With invaded eyes,
Huddled with shoulders hitched
In spackled abandonment,
Frozen in a paralysis of unity.
One wing, one bleak vocal bleeding
One mind and one belly –

Surrender is a kind of melting
Wrapped in black puddles’
Passing for survival.

M C Biegner 2004

Thursday, November 11, 2004


Author's Note: Now years away from the trauma of 9/11 as a metamorphic moment, we are left pondering how we live in the shadow of such trauma. This story juxtaposes the enormity of the immediacy of the event, with how to deal with and live in the mundane that makes up most of our lives. This is what art has to deal with now, as it relates to this event.

We are done with the analyis, the grief, the denial. All that is left is to explore how this event compares with the trivial in our lives - where does it fit in with the rest of our lives as it slowly becomes a backdrop to new generations yet to come.

After the event, I was unable to comprehend what this event meant to me let alone try to express this in my writing. This story is an attempt to have that conversation with myself that makes it now something worth exploring.

- M C B


His hands were like broken concrete yet they wrapped the pole of the subway car tightly.

It was almost a year ago that the towers fell; when the plume shuttled uptown and the dust tossed itself willy-nilly over lower Manhattan. It was almost a year ago, when shards of paper representing lives flew like souls across the Hudson into Brooklyn, signifying all that was left.

McNab took the “F” train downtown every day to get to his job. He got on at Kew Gardens and he always wore his construction helmet backwards. After the collapse, they slapped one of those American flags on the backs of all the guys’ helmets. McNab wore his so the flag faced forward.

McNab was a rigger and had been for years. He’d been working downtown since the collapse. He was a slight man, but wore his work belt, heavy boots and thick gloves which gave him monstrous girth.

At Jackson Heights the crowds in the train pushed out against the bodies lined up waiting to board; there was a panicked effort to catch the number 7 train to Flushing. McNab pulled back in the car. He never sat. He always preferred to give up his seat.

After all these trips riding the “F”, there were no strangers. The school kids piling in at Forrest Hills – weighed down by back-packs, bodies in a droopy slouch; the midtown Manhattan bound – women working in Fortune 100 companies wearing Anne Taylor and Nikes; men trying to sleep, occupied with a calculus of the day to come; everyone shaking gently in the car. They were al lsquatters eyeing patches of subway seat naugahyde like prime Manhattan real estate.

At the Roosevelt Avenue station the train performed its purge and binge of riders. Marisol always stepped on here. Same spot on the platform. Same car. McNab always instinctively turned his head discreetly toward his outstretched arm, trying to catch his own body odor. Marisol was a slight pretty Puerto Rican woman with thick red lips who wore too much makeup. She rode until Rockefeller Center where she always smoothed her pants or skirt, gathered her things, just before she would rise and stand by the train door. As Marisol went by she always brushed against McNab’s gruff toil smeared body. He breathed in her perfume, and marveled at her rich black hair.

Marisol always read; her dark almond eyes peered over her newspaper appeared like question marks to McNab. If she ever suspected that McNab watched her, she never let on. These were two dancers among many on all the cars that hurtled through the tunnels under New York.

When the train descended under the East River, McNab felt his ears “pop”. The lights would go out momentarily and he could only see the shadow of Marisol’s head against the tunnel lights through the car window. Together they rocked and lurched, evident for that half hour that they were subject to the same laws of physics.

When Marisol’s stop arrived, McNab made a deal with himself to follow her out, to talk to her and strike up a conversation. He planned it from Roosevelt Island. When the door opened, he saw himself follow her. He felt his body want to move. As the doors closed, the chimes seemed to berate his lack of initiative. “Tomorrow”, he would mutter and then begin the negotiations all over again.

The doors closed, as the great beast dumped McNab off at West 4th Street where he would walk the rest of the way.

There was still rubble to clear.

M C Biegner 2004

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

POEM - Lamentation

Lamentation Posted by Hello

Will you be there?
Will you be waiting?
I have never known what it is to be strong
And I need to know what strength is.

Will you be there?

Will you cry?
Will you lose control?
Stand up and face your own powerlessness,
But I need you to know recklessness.

Will you cry?

Will I matter?
Will my voice always be a whisper?
Chiseled by silence, chipped edgy like quartz
I need you to know that voice gives meaning.

Will I matter?

M C Biegner 2004

Monday, November 08, 2004

Seeing Red

I have a demon that needs exorcism. There is this image of a map with states in blue and red. I hear a sound of a soulless coup rise up from Washington, and replace our National Anthem, or even God Bless America. It is a chant of “Mandate! Mandate!” It is a head-spinning vision that needs purging.

I watched the 2004 election returns in stunned horror, but not really surprise. I could see this coming for a while. I imagine this slow torture of liberty is how it happened in Germany, in 1940. Now, though, it seems the Dark Tower stands taller than ever.

The talking heads run off at the mouth about the problem: the process, the fix, the history and the possibilities, but they ignore the obvious. Quality raw materials are required for any process to produce quality finished goods. The electorate is becoming dumber. Over 60% of people in the U.S. still believe that Iraq was directly responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Towers despite the media outlets’ – lap dogs to power that they are – admission that there was no connection. What does a guy have to do to get a point made? Kill someone?

Only in Copernicus’ times when a vast majority of people believed that the sun rotated around the earth can we find such a conditioned programmed response that short circuits human intellect. The Bush administration is really riding the cultural wave of anti-intellectualism that is sweeping America. In fact, the Bushies serve as guardian and poster child for such a movement. The reactionary mood is so strong, in fact, how long before stoning adulterers and applying leeches to cure migraines become Republican party platform planks?

Looking at the electoral map on November 3rd, it seems as though the entire middle of the country has become the green room for the Jerry Springer show. The bright red center, surrounded by the blue coastal states makes it appear like some viral strain from outer space is spreading outward toward the edges of the country. I suspect that if we did time lapse overlay photography of these electoral college maps for the past six or seven elections, the red would look like a spill: a red menace of a different kind.

Of course, this map only reflects the victory for which candidate won that state’s electoral votes. It does not illustrate the angst and division of the people within that state. Perhaps blending the blue and red colors in ratio commensurate with the popular vote of each candidate might better give us a sense of any “mandate”. The states would appear in various shades of purple based on the blue and red concentrations. If the ambiguity of the nation were reflected in this manner – this “purple polemic” if you will – we would begin to see that no one really knows what to do. What do we do about illegal immigrants? What about abortion? How do we fight the terrorists and still keep our liberties? The real battleground state is the one in our minds; the real war on terror is the one being waged against our intellect. The real enemy repudiates learning and insists on an electorate armed with speculation, tabloid journalism, reality-based TV and gossip.
The real loser is a more open America. The real loser is us.
MB 2004

Saturday, November 06, 2004

POEM - For Pablo

If you were to ask me:
“What would you be, if you could be anything at all?”

Then I would say
That I would be
A Pablo Neruda poem:

One that is an over ripened
Crushed beneath my shoe
As I bend down to pick it,
Bleeding over everything,
Without remorse and unapologetic.
Sometimes exploding inside out,
At others, holding,
Holding back;
Until not one speck is left,
Drained, like a blanched seashell.

Running down, dripping
All that I know to be
The truest things about love:

Sloppy and silly,
Sometimes just stupid,
Green yet sad.
But so unrepentant.
And so un-terrified
How it presents itself,
How it unfolds like thunder,
Relentless as rain:

Surrenders everything
Without shame,
Without regard to fierceness.
It is every bit as life changing
As an orgasm.

I would say,
Is what I wish to be

M C Biegner

POEM - Exposition

There are moments like rayon
In our lives
And like Neil Armstrong
I planted my flag onto
Your Sea of Tranquility
And kicked up all that moon dust
And left footprints everywhere.

We held back that which
We were not prepared to lose;
We sought pleasure in the lottery
That is loss and love.

Was there ever a free fall as daring?

Our nerve endings danced
Fourth of July flags –
As you sipped your cremosa
And tried on a vulnerable smile
So sweet, I swear,
That I could have nursed you into adulthood.

There are moments like rayon
In our lives:
What we press close to our skin;
What we hold against soft purple skies;
And what we choose to let in.

POEM - What The Rain Teaches Me

Honor rarities all around;
Really, are we not one of these?
I ask the rain to sit me down
and teach me to coax life from ground;

That deep within me, where I crease
Are wounds that push me with doubt's feet.
Yet faith, as generous as "please",
Scrapes off the strife and leaves the ease;

The acrid dark to daylight sweet
As sharpened edge makes steel a knife;
Evokes in me a wish discreet
For love borderless and complete:

Despotic-- how it runs my life,
This dream, my kin, my hearth, my wife.

M.B. 2004

POEM - Noise

when i do talk, it is strained
like someone surrounding
my face in bubble-wrap;
i exist in a
deprived of all the grace that i need.

but still i hold back
like a pregnant rain cloud
that drags its belly across

Thursday, November 04, 2004

POEM - Birdwatching In Babylon

My salvation is beauty’s kiss --
It approaches me like a windy spiral
of foppish leaves' dancing denial.
It leaves me with wonkish truths
Which bolster me with deepened roots.

For Mesopotamia, now midnight soot,
Has acquiesced beneath the boot;
From humankind this snake has grown
Hoping to consume its own
body, from start to end and head to tail
Where human life first burst forth, now it flails.

As it was in the beginning,
Is now and ever shall be;

A world of endless suffering;
Saved from pagan idolatry;
Carved from empire’s ideology;
Inflated by ambition’s puffery.

I seek what is invisible
Like birding in Babylon, an indivisible
faith in delicate things:
Feathers and song, and iridescent wings;
perched on fetid branches, rest small drops of color
sporting costumes that dress war’s dolor.

It scours me pure like sandstorm grit.

It seeps like ink into my vision,
I am shorn and weakened like noble Sampson;
by a willow warbler’s lyric face
Or the fecund insistence of a fruit fly’s grace,

These are things that make themselves known,
If Wisdom is my head, then beauty is my bone.

MB 2004

Monday, November 01, 2004

POEM - Skypointing

Do you recall how we
Looked like braided rope
When we took to Skypointing?

Our lust was so efficient
With the acute focus of youth;
Arched our heads backward
Dizzy with what was to come,
Tilting at what seemed unknowable,
We questioned everything
the truth which holds tight
Like rain clinging to the Rose of Sharon;
Until we emptied all that we
Could know or feel
into each other
And created yet another universe.

MB 2004