“A car, a girl, a community of believers”

I am enchanted by this line of poetry. It wormed its way into my memory at the beginning of the year, and now and then it floats to the top of inner speech when I should be using my words to transact one or another dreary task. It’s the final line of a poem by Major Jackson. I heard him read it on an excellent edition of Open Source with Christopher Lydon last January 23. “Some Kind of Crazy” comes from Major Jackson’s book, Leaving Saturn (University of Georgia Press, 2002).

“Some Kind of Crazy” tells a story about a street person from the Philadelphia neighborhood where Jackson grew up. As he walked around the neighborhood he pretended he was a car. “He was definitely someone who gave texture to my neighborhood,” the poet explains before reading the poem. “Everyone knew who he was. A number of the girls would ask for a ride, and he would pretend like he was parking the car and get out and act as if he was opening the passenger door for them.”

“It doesn’t matter if you can’t see/Steve’s 1985 Corvette,” the poem begins

Like a Baptist
Preacher stroking the dark underside
Of God’s wet tongue, he can make you


The poem ends:

We, the faithful, never call
Him crazy, crackbrained, just a little
Touched. It’s all he ever wants:
A car, a girl, a community of believers.


“That’s all any of us want, maybe. That’ll do,” Chris Lydon says in that awkward moment after a poem is recited and the silence waits for a response. “A ‘community of believers’ is interesting. That’s what a poet wants, right?”

“A community of readers,” Jackson answers, “– and believers.”

All of this – the conversational setup, the poem itself, the response – happens between 35:20 and 38:00 on the podcast. It works perfectly, poem and context. Every poem, when recited aloud, exists in an aural context. At poetry readings the nervous patter preceding a poem can be longer than the poem itself, and after the last line is uttered… few poets are brave enough to let the silence linger. And few listeners loosen their character armor enough to allow an audible response.

It’s paradoxical: more poets are writing and publishing poems today than ever before, but few poems really find an audience, a community of believers. We need to work on creating more contexts where poetry can be experienced. That’s a creative project as necessary as the work of writing poems. This edition of Open Source does the job well.

I have more to say about “Some Kind of Crazy” which I’ll save for another post. For now, I am grateful that hearing one poem and remembering just one of its lines has returned me like a prose-prodigal son to the visionary linguistic space of poetry.

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