A vision: Across a blacktop highway, beneath a weather-flayed billboard that proclaimed "One Nation under God --Bush/Cheney 2004, " in a field of desiccated corn stalks, gaunt, bearded, mullet-haired, crackhead Jesus rose from the shrouds of coke-smoke and drifted across the blacktop highway to raise the road kill from the dead.
"Crack makes me feel like Jesus ought to, " the billboard should have proclaimed ... perhaps then an impassioned chorus of hosannas would have arisen from the country crackies congregated there.
Upon the perch of a mustard-yellow vinyl sofa cast out into the abandoned field amid the scrawny pine saplings and rusted-out farm tools, the old man 's grandson brought his bony knees to his chin and began rocking upon his meatless haunches, then he raised the crack pipe Eucharist to his parched, quivering lips, inhaled, and gave his life over to the Lord God of Dopamine.
Across the Low Country, the family farms are gone.
Brutal trucks fulminate on the cracked blacktop highways. The swamps are being drained; its lumber plundered.
As doomed as the drought-desiccated cornstalks, the lives of the sons and daughters of moonshine-makers are now decimated by crystal meth and crack cocaine.
Dust squalls in the dry fields; the future burns to crack ash.
The swamp has receded: Bear and bobcat are gone.
Convenience stores, Wal*Mart superstores, strip malls and fast food joints choke the landscape where tenant farmers once struggled to survive.
The surrounding swamplands were once astoundingly beautiful. Even strangling vines of wisteria draped their dying hosts in exquisite purple blossoms.
Although, in the eyes of the human inhabitants of the land, the beauty was only incidental -- superfluous -- only a relentless drive to survive was needed ... All else fell away.
Presently, that inexorable drive remains only as a meaningless and hollow appetite. Fat people, clad in stretch clothing, are everywhere, while others are morbidly thin, having only an appetite that craves crack cocaine highs and crystal meth tweaking. Their hardscrabble survival instincts are gone -- yet the relentless appetite remains. It 's terrifying: the way the urge towards life, when thwarted, can go over to its opposite, with equal vigor, revealing the death skull beneath the skin.
Our tragedy: This drive, this eternal appetite that forces life to its zenith, but instead delivers it to dust. This is what Walker Percy wrote of that internal
"Death in the form of death genes shall not prevail over me, for death genes are one thing but it is something else to name the death genes and know them and stand over against them and dare them. I am different from my death genes and therefore not subject to them. My father had the same death genes but he feared them and did not name them and thought he could roar out old Route 66 and stay ahead of them or grab me and be pals or play Brahms and keep them, the death genes, happy, so he fell prey to them. "
Yet this variety of tragic consanguinity is not limited to the doomed hinterlands, for it rules the order of the present day as well. The Death Genes lord over the American empire. Accordingly, an empire destroys nearly everything it touches, because, after a time, it begins to exist for no other reason other than to perpetuate its own existence. Within it, its subjects ' lives lose meaning and purpose: meaningless work, petty ambition, and endless appetite define the days, resulting in a decimated (internal as well as
external) landscape -- the hollowed-out lives of its populace --- and the concomitant death cult convergence of religious fundamentalism and habitual consumerism that follow.
The corporate empire has imprinted the Death Genes within us -- and it is made manifest before us in the world we have created. It is as visible as the noxious vapors of pollutants veiling the horizon line at sunset. It shimmers like heat spires above our traffic-stalled interstates. It reeks like the endless archipelagos of overflowing landfills spanning the length of the land. The Death Genes hold us, as we hold a TV remote in our hands and when the news turns tragic it moves us to tremble with excitement and barely concealed glee.
Fox Cable News, like the jackal-headed, carrion-eating god, Anubus, leads the old man through the land of the
dead: Through the now dried-up swamplands of his youth ... through the limbo of suburbs and exurbs that displaced it ... The old man is led past rural, crystal meth labs, and pharmaceutical plants, and Starbucks Coffee cafÃ©s, where pale shades receive the libation needed to provisionally pass for the living; the guide and his charge linger in pawn shops, gun stores (so many gun stores) and firing ranges -- all temples devoted to the true higher power of the American empire -- the God of Death -- locations where the grim God gathers sustenance and strength, drawing energy from the nation 's emanations of hatred, fear, and aggression like a reptile luxuriating on a sun-heated rock; and finally, they arrive at a small mortuary where they listen to a self-satisfied Baptist minister delivering the old man's eulogy -- a sermon devoted to the love and worship of the God of Death (for the joys of this world are wicked and will deny entry into the perfect one to come) as all the while, the preacher takes measure of the old man 's shrunken corpse, laid out in his open casket, like a used car salesman accessing the resale value of a Ford Pinto with a cracked engine block.
The ground now holds and begins the process of decomposing the remains of the old man 's body, in tragic symmetry to the manner in which the neo-plantation system of tenant farming held his youth and composed the contradictions of his gentle/angry, generous/spiteful, humble/racist mind.
Yet these confounding and contradictory attributes of the southern psyche will not be dissolved into dirt:
Traits of habitual submission to authority, of hostile defiance against any hint of outside interference in their lives, of fierce loyalty to one 's kin and unquestioning devotion to the place of one 's birth, of reflexive racial hatred and resistance to change, of moonshine revelry and anguished come-to-Jesus recantations of sin will live on through the old man's progeny.
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