Poetry Moment: Jan Beatty and 'Company Car'
Poetry Moment on WPSU is a program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Host Shara McCallum is this year’s Penn State Laureate.
Today’s poem is “Company Car” by Jan Beatty.
Jan Beatty is the author of six books of poetry, most recently, The Body Wars. Today’s poem comes from an earlier collection, The Switching/Yard. Beatty is also author of a memoir, American Bastard, winner of the Red Hen Nonfiction Award. Born and still residing in Pittsburgh, for many years Beatty directed creative writing at Carlow University, ran the Madwomen in the Attic writing workshops, and was Distinguished Writer in Residence.
Jan Beatty’s poetry is marked by an uncompromisingly honest voice. Beatty’s poems often deliver narratives of working-class life that are tough and tender at once, piercing in their emotional clarity and distillation of the past. In “Company Car,” the poet-speaker is an adult looking back on all she did not understand as a 10-year-old child of the humiliations her father endured. In the memories the poet gathers into the poem, Beatty allows us to see the father as the ‘builder’ of his family’s life and as a man giving ‘body’ to the rage he carried. In the spirit of Father’s Day this Sunday, I offer Beatty’s complex portrait.
To make sure, they took out the back seat,
left a dirty hole for hauling supplies.
My father worked for American Tobacco, when
smoking was glamorous & profits fatter.
We set up little red & white folding chairs
in the back hole of the Ford Fairlane sedan,
1960 black with red vinyl interior, me & my
sister, 7 years before Woodstock, we
rock/n rolled crazy down the street.
I was 10 & didn’t know the history
of the company store. Laughing & falling over
/my father’s eyes in the rear-view/my
mother scowling, I didn’t know the shame of it.
Our screams of stupid joy reminded them
of what we were: working-class, afraid of
being seen riding around, afraid my father
would lose his job. He couldn’t take us
to school or church, but he did.
He was the builder of our lives, carving
a way through the lies around us.
Is that why he yelled so much at our silliness?
Where did he put his rage, as he pulled the black
car into the garage & turned the key?
I saw him late one night under the side-house light:
he took it & put it stone by stone in the
driveway wall, heaving & radiant. I saw him
give rage a body, breathe it alive.
That was “Company Car” by Jan Beatty.
Thank you for sharing this moment of poetry with us today.