It Was Mother

It Was Heaven

It Was Heaven
Wayras Olivier
JUNE 2016


Heaven in a wild flower—although never cited in Mississippi Burning—is a fragment from William Blake's Auguries of Innocence. The poem's body is shaped by observances of ensuing injustices and corruptions on Earth after what can only be described as a sanguinely pure opening. The stanza that collars the poem's hopeful "head" are four lines. They are: "To see a world in a grain of sand/And a heaven in a wild flower/Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/And eternity in a hour." Trudging forward, eyes reach two piercing lines, slightly shy of the poem's halfway point, or as I like to call, its gut, where one is confronted with the arresting (if not chilling) lines 53 and 54:

"A truth that's told with bad intent/Beats all the lies you can invent"

The gut—the body's "second head"— is where all lawful decisions are truly made; or as I should correctly say, where the brain ("first head") goes to make laws true, that we discover this trenchantly symbolic knot left by the poet, much like a belly button, to push and remind us personally of what we take as our cause.

How one ties a lie or unties a fabrication largely depends on whether or not the judge—an undetectable companion residing in the flaps and folds of the gut's underworld—has retained its verdure. Of which, the retention in the affirmative, we call conscience. Yet, a tenaciously forceful conscience, can, and often does, still lose to "first head's" prowess for sophistry that can hatch invariably innocent self-righteous motives. Everyone has experienced the pain (I hope) of acting on a suspiciously cogent idea that later made them "sick". The gut's insularly narrow, childishly objective asexual notions—much like a flower—of right and wrong were no match for "first head's" soil, with its double-sided capacity to procreate any ethic, however wide and varied, for auction, which, once purchased, condoned any action. Only later, psychopathy notwithstanding, does one feel and hear the judge gurgling on stomach water gone turbid, that one is forced to reflect on how they have plowed.

Sleeping in the vast delta between subjectivity and objectivity, is misunderstanding, along with its most mellow companions: discomfort, hesitation, and fickleness, and its most excitable associates: chaos, unpredictability, and violence, which, if you look closely, are all potentially awakened in the poem's head: written in place of the world is a world; heaven is qualified as a heaven. Revelations, much like moonshine—its clear and potent proof mixed as man sees fit with lye, and bootlegged from his backyard—are highly susceptible to corruption. "Backyard" being the operative word as unregulated spirits that remain in vein invariably cause a racket for someone to distill, distribute and profit from. Watch how, when asked point blank by a reporter if he, Clayton Townley (Stephen Tobolowsky), is a spokesman for The White Knights of The Ku Klux Klan he rather shockingly responds in the affirmative:

"I told you. I'm a businessman. I'm also a Mississippian and an American, and I'm getting sick and tired of the way many of us Mississippians are having our views distorted by you newspaper people and on the TV. So let's get this straight ... we do not accept Jews because they reject Christ and their control of the International Banking Cartels are at the root of what we call Communism today. We do not accept Papists because they bow to a Roman Dictator. We do not accept Turks, Mongols, Tartars, Orientals, nor Negroes because we're here to protect Anglo-Saxon Democracy and the American Way."

I couldn't help but wince at what is clearly a boozy response from a "sober" man, only to snort a chuckle, after just recently revisiting the film, at a rather deftly placed line of dialogue—scribe, Chris Gerolmo—that immediately follows Clayton's response that I had previously missed some twenty years go. Although directed towards the dimwitted character Lester, the line does, in macro, suggest rather acutely that the often cited Genesis 9 verse 27 as the worn reason for the characters stunted judgment is caused less so by the bible's passage and more so by their bordered milieu. One that for generations has hemmed any gene that may fray, through hand-me-downs, the thread of their children's, children's, children's sturdy ivory denim. Line: "I swear to God Lester, you are living proof that cousins shouldn't f-ck."

As such, sown are the interests of these men, whose adoption of behaviour, when servicing what they believe to be the interest of "innocence", namely its preservation, are left to needle—along with the sheriff's department—unregulated with impunity. Clayton's aforementioned response also openly identifies his religious denomination: a condemnation of a Roman dictator marks him as Protestant, or, more vulgarly, a WASP.

Most adults, if pressed, can recall the sting evinced, however mild, by "the great teaching" they received as a child from an authority figure, in most cases a parent, grandparent or respected guardian, who, when saddled to a crisis, unfastened the stitch to their problem by uncovering a loop. Weaving such a shortcut, the poorly chosen "means" somehow never reached its "end" without the seamster's integrity coming into question. The embarrassed red-handed authority figure, unable to use "not knowing any better" as an alibi, excuses their fence jumping by neighing: that unlike a trapped horse cornered inside a barn, they did what they had to do to prevent their ass from being burned.

The event that "branded" Anderson (Gene Hackman) as a young boy—recounted as the story of Monroe—is recalled after his boss, Ward (Willem Dafoe), asked him, "Where does all this hate come from?" Money, although not instanced by Anderson, is the answer to the aforementioned question as the story incipiently suggests; one, "each according to his ability" is a system of compensation designed by those in positions of privilege who have never lived by "each according to his needs"; two, all healthy sentient beings desire the development of their "abilities" to actualize the innovational might of their free will; and three, the ruling class at the top become vertiginous when they recognize that the heights of their position can be lowered if they lose control over the speed and rate at which "evolution" inflates. Anderson's memory:

"You know, when I was a little boy there was an old Negro farmer that lived down the road from us, named Monroe and he was, uh... I guess he was just a little luckier than my daddy was. He bought himself a mule. That was a big deal around that town. My daddy hated that mule because his friends were always kidding him about seeing Monroe, out plowing with his mule, and Monroe was gonna rent another field now that he had a mule. One morning that mule just showed up dead. They poisoned the water. And after that, there was never any mention about that mule around my daddy. It just never came up."

Although it was cited as "luck", Monroe, without force or violence—or a "vote"—conspicuously emancipated himself from the white monopoly over means of production—Monroe himself being one of those means—by migrating the burden of labour onto another beast, one with an extra set of legs to spare. The mule as an income-generating security was ostensibly a "bull", a market maker for Monroe, that placed the control of capital, as far as Anderson's father was concerned, in the "wrong" farmer's hand; the quadruped precipitated Monroe's evolution, which gave him too much credit around town, placing him in the rare category of—if his expansion continued—lender, not borrower. This event would have also occurred roughly in tandem with another doomed, albeit, larger "bull" that chained, after its demise, not just Mississippi, but all of "Murica" to a decade-long bear. A grizzly crash that dyed the country to levels of poverty that enslaved, humiliated and dehumanized all classes and denominations irrespective of their pigment. A country and bottom line that was under the command of—for the first half of the depression—president Herbert Hoover, as such, when young Anderson is offered the supercilious excuse from his father for killing Monroe's mule: "If you ain't better than a n-gger son, than who are you better than? "The great teaching" would have seemed strangely irrelevant and never cuffed Anderson to racism. The filmmakers play with fate and irony as Anderson remains in adulthood—by working for the FBI—a "Hoover Boy."

***

Taking it exceedingly personally rather than just as an impartial and indiscriminate condition of nature, the wasp is unable, in an unwinnable position, to generate a buzz of protest other than the kind that sounds violently hateful. Caught by the carnivorous Sarracenia, renowned for its beauty and pungent smell, the wild flower has, without making a peep, placed the wasp in a sticky situation. Swallowing it whole before killing it, the Sarracenia begins to extract the decomposing wasp's hemolymph—its constituents: nitrogen and ammonia, to name a few—and deposits the organic essentials back into the prevailingly nutrient poor, black soil. The Sarracenia was not defending itself from attack, nor did it kill the wasp for energy. The yellow abiotic sunshine tends to that. The flower was merely recycling nutrients. Or, if you look at it more deeply, in embryo, an exchange between the flower and sun occurred; an exchange engineered by mother nature for man to study and correctly mirror; an exchange that when mirrored incorrectly often motivates one side to beg, borrow or steal; an exchange called: labour for capital. In most cases, the Sarracenia grows in an area of the soil that has a demand or need of some sort, usually carbon or nitrogen, and the flower labours to keep the biotic nutrient cycle of the ecosystem in equilibrium by digesting wasps and is compensated in return for services rendered by the sun's capital—energy.

Factors contributing to nutrient barren soil are various, none of which I will explore or mention except for the one resulting from punitive destruction or an ensuing attack strategy called scorched earth. Although in this film, "the enemy" hasn't withdrawn from town, they have left, via church burnings, the "coloureds" bereft of their most inestimable resource—a gathering area to ignite, consolidate and spread their moral energy. And it's here, after one such burning, where the filmmakers give the wild flower her introduction. (It must be noted, the mellifluous and pacifying Magnolia, Mississippi's state flower, is not visible once throughout the film) The Sarracenia is plucked from the ground, where just a few yards away, the ashed church has left Earth ligated and sterile; and where Anderson asks a spiritually immolated father and son standing amongst the parched ruins:

"I don't suppose you can tell me what kind of flowers these are, could you?"

Note how Anderson asks what kind of flower it is, not its name, a ridiculously foolish question for what is ostensibly a crime scene unless he already knew its name—which, being raised as a Mississippian, I suspect he did—but more importantly, knew that the flower was carnivorous; a peculiarity shared in its own way, by the largely discredited phenomenon scopaesthesia, that, excuse me, everyone has experienced and knows is quite real, except for Ward, who, when entering a diner in the beginning of the film doesn't take into consideration that the "coloureds" without the aid of eyes on the back of their head can feel when they're being eaten alive by other people's glares; constant surveillance which forces the coloureds into mute submission.

"They're called trumpet pitchers," the father instructs.

Attributed to the wild flower, as described by Anderson, are the lines "they're beautiful, they really are ... they don't smell so good" a bewitching virtue for a fleur and another way of saying—eerily analogous to Blake's line—"A truth that's told with bad intent." Later, when Anderson meets Mrs. Pell (Frances McDormand) we get a haunting insight into the judge residing in the flowers' solar plexus. She too, inquires about the flower by asking Anderson what kind it is. Clear as dishwater, the first time I saw this scene was its intent; second time around, the scene is decidedly filtered through one's prescience of a later scene where Anderson scolds Ward with the lines:

"You know what your problem is? You don't know when to speak and when to shut up and that makes you fool."

These lines reconsidered along with Pell's inquiry cascade a stunning insight. Operating in town are two incommensurable "codes", one written implicitly and one written explicitly for the "coloureds" to obey and follow; a salient reality for Anderson and Ward to take note of, even more so as they themselves by profession are paid to emblematize the supremacy clause and have just been told, in a previous scene, that they are not the law. Anderson keeps quiet after Pell tacitly acknowledges she already knew the flowers were called trumpet pitchers and goes on to say:

"My daddy used to call them Ladies from Hell because they're carnivorous ... you see the pretty colors, the bait, insects just home on in there and wham, they're dead even before they got their shoes off."

Pell's father—years prior—was left after a poker game bereft of the deed to his own home. Most certainly a proletariat, like Anderson's father, the loss would have been devastating for Pell's father to stomach; denied the pile of free capital on the table, his cracked palms spurned of economic moisturizer are left as relics to grievously remind him that arduous labour is required to earn one's bread. One can make the assumption it was here, at this fateful game, where Pell's father coined his anthropomorphic pet name for what causes sudden and dramatic turns of events—Ladies from Hell.

However, it's in Pell's hallway, when she's holding a trumpet pitcher clipped from the Earth and looking at Anderson, that one begins to wonder, if they, in secret, both knew from whom her father got the name from.

The Royal Regiment of Scotland—known also as the Ladies from Hell—marched, in both World Wars, to the slogan "nemo me impune lacessit" (no one attacks me with impunity).

Difficult to not take personally are fingernails left long and uncut, by those who scratch at progress, increase and general equality, and manage somehow to look clean. Insufferable even more so, however, are dirty nails that have been left unapologetically un-manicured by those who blatantly announce, that the bad luck that thwarts the flowering of life is being engineered by design. An innocent, visceral, and slightly foolish surge of vindictive adolescent passion can always be had by going to the movies to see these people get "clipped." Anderson had asked Ward in the film's opening "what's got four I's [eyes] and can't see?" An intended jab at the young, bespectacled Ward is really aimed at "Mississippi," the swapping of Mississippi for "virilities" is just as accurate a word to describe male blindness, perhaps more exactly, shortsightedness, when men go about "divinizing"—that other word that claims to have four eyes. All because Heaven knew, that there were no I's in Heaven when it created wild flowers on Earth.

W.