59. Goodtime Jesus: James Tate

When I was a child and went to Sunday School my father had a picture hanging on the wall called “Laughing Jesus”. It is a head shot. Jesus is in the rain, and I’m not sure why he’s laughing, but he’s laughing his head off with pure joy. Although my father probably explained the inspiration for the picture, I always assumed it was a joy of nature and God’s magnificence.

No longer a church goer, and not even sure if I’m still a Christian, that image–and the larger idea of Jesus = Love–keeps me open to the comfort and guidance the Christian church offers even as too many of its followers preach hatred and spend their energies dividing us.

“Goodtime Jesus” reminds me of that picture. It may seem sacrilegious to some (it was declared as much when it was published in my U Mass alumni magazine alongside an article on Tate, who is a professor there), but what also struck me in Sunday School was that Jesus had a mortal side. He is the son of God, but also the son of Mary. Anyone who enjoys a good cup of coffee has to be worth listening to. I find this Jesus very inspiring.

Of course, a public school teacher might be hesitant to present this to his or her students. I have not, but I do present more classical religious works. Much of literature has religious underpinnings if not outright praise or criticism. But, it being All Saint’s Day, I wanted to offer it up.

Notice how it does not follow several poetry conventions. It is a story and in paragraph form. Is it a poem? What defines it as such? Heck, it doesn’t even rhyme!

Is this praise? A celebration? How is Jesus portrayed, and what is Tate trying to say? Does this presentation differ from that normally presented? How does Tate fit in with literary presentations of Jesus?


Goodtime Jesus
James Tate

Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. He had been dreaming so deep there was nothing left in his head. What was it?  A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beautiful day. How ’bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little ride on my donkey, I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.


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