846: Some Madness There

846: Some Madness There

846: Some Madness There


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

I have a friend from my years in Philly, who, not knowing how she was going to pay the remaining balance of her college bill, sat on the edge of her seat the first few weeks of classes of her first year, unable to concentrate. Her parents wanted her to return home and enroll in a local and more affordable college, believing she had made a poor decision to attend a school with such a high tuition.

Then, one morning, on a whim to use a new credit card, mailed to her the previous day, she flew to Paris for lunch. She decided to postpone her worries by taking an impulsive weekend trip overseas.

Much to the dismay of her parents, she never returned home nor to the school with the hefty tuition. Instead, for a decade, she worked six months a year as a waitress collecting tips then traveled the globe the other six months of the year. She’s one of the most adventurous, exciting, and independent people I know.

Years later, I was excited to tell my family that I was driving cross-country to attend graduate school at the University of Oregon. We were gathered for some birthday occasion around a restaurant table. But they pelted me with questions that harbored between harassment and hilarity. My grandfather wanted to know if there were black barbershops or black churches in the Northwest. A distressed aunt asked if I could not have found a graduate program half the distance. Conceptually, they could not imagine or conceive a world beyond the one we currently inhabited, one where they meticulously bestowed their nurturance and protection. Albeit, given the history of violence against black bodies, this was a brand of paranoia that was grounded in truth; my venturing out of the bubble carried all kinds of historic risks. A month later, with family hovered around my car, I gave hugs and took off in my used Jetta, full of everything to my name.

Something called me beyond the familiar streets of Philadelphia. When I arrived in Eugene, Oregon after an arduous yet stunning road trip of camping and driving through the midwest, the Rockies, the Arches National Park, Death Valley, and up California’s Route 101, I felt oddly reborn into an existence and landscape that felt like it was always a part of me. For two years, I lived and wrote about my youth in Philly; the miles between my old home and new home made the people and events in my life even more vivid.

Today’s illuminating poem contends with that normal yet emotional experience of children leaving home, and posits that this wanderlust is, maybe, genetically encoded in our natal spirit of adventure and discovery.

Some Madness There
by Charlotte Pence

            “It’s only fully modern humans who start this thing of
            venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of
            that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it.
            But there is also, I like to say, some madness there.”
			                              —Svante Paäbo from “The Madness Gene”

They must run, these soft creatures
we nurse and lullaby. Must wriggle
across the dog, up the shelves,
under the fence. It’s not enough,

never far enough. They flock to where
ground softens into waves, into riptides.
There! they say, pointing to the imaginary
line where sky and sea meet. There!

they say to pocks on the moon. There!
to the dim disk of Mars. “Here”
is where they need to leave more than
“there” is where to go. Often they ask,

What will we find? Not as often do
they ask why they must flee
the known, the home, the family
who stands behind and waves.

That’s one thing we’re good for, we 
families: It’s our job to wave.

“Some Madness There” by Charlotte Pence from CODE, © 2020 Charlotte Pence. Used by permission of Black Lawrence Press.