In his poem “Wayne”, James Best develops the character of quirky, delusional Wayne through his interaction with his social worker. I found the descriptions of Wayne compelling because of his unique point-of-view and the authenticity of Best’s writing.
The poem starts with the imagery of Wayne painting the roof, his “hot metal canvas” with black paint against the white with such messages as “Spy planes, your rape the Heavens!” and “End Imminent—Retreat to Space.” The image of a man laboriously painting his metal roof in the heat of the sun combined with the detail of his slogans in an engaging introduction that piques the interest. Best continues to combine arresting and genuine detail with imagery throughout, such as when Wayne “spends four days drawing 600 pages/ of ambulances” and becomes “so happy he has to hug himself/ to hold himself in.” He is seen as a little crazy, and then as a child in an adult’s body. It is a fascinating look into the psychology of the mentally unstable; protected and removed as you are from the alarming aspects of the scene, peering in through the words and lines of the poem.
Mormons are constantly reminded to have charity for all, to serve and love even (especially) those that are not looked highly upon by most of society. But there is often a difference between believing something and actually practicing it. You may nod your head in sacrament meeting, and then pass by the dirty, tired-looking man on the street. This poem forces you to confront the often-unseen fellow children of God and remember that He loves them just as completely. Wayne is mentally dysfunctional and possesses many kooky ideas, such as his belief that the government shoots down comets, which “are just whales/ drifting through a different ocean.” Yet the command to love your neighbor applies just as fully to individuals like Wayne as the high-functioning lawyer in the next pew.
As I read, I started to evaluate my own treatment of those that appear a little weird, not wholly together. Do I shy away from these sorts of interactions? Do I look at them with less respect, with a little revulsion? My attitude has certainly not been without fault. On my second reading of “Wayne,” I noticed the repetition of the idea of comets in the final lines. Looking up into the “clear night” sky, Wayne shouts in excitement:
“They’ll never shoot them down again!”
“I speak to the comets now!”
Though I first dismissed this as simply another of his crackpot theories, Best’s repetition clearly signaled its importance in the poem. I saw it as a call. Those like Wayne perceive the world in a completely different way, they are like whales swimming in a different ocean. Instead of trying to “shoot them down” with hard-hearted judgment and unkindness, I should strive to develop empathy and compassion. A disheveled exterior may conceal a spirit, bright and shining like a comet, within.