The Bath

By Gary Snyder b. 1930 Gary Snyder
Washing Kai in the sauna,
The kerosene lantern set on a box
      outside the ground-level window,
Lights up the edge of the iron stove and the
      washtub down on the slab   
Steaming air and crackle of waterdrops
      brushed by on the pile of rocks on top
He stands in warm water
Soap all over the smooth of his thigh and stomach
      “Gary don’t soap my hair!”
      —his eye-sting fear—
      the soapy hand feeling
      through and around the globes and curves of his body   
      up in the crotch,
And washing-tickling out the scrotum, little anus,
      his penis curving up and getting hard
      as I pull back skin and try to wash it
Laughing and jumping, flinging arms around,
      I squat all naked too,
                                          is this our body?

Sweating and panting in the stove-steam hot-stone   
      cedar-planking wooden bucket water-splashing   
      kerosene lantern-flicker wind-in-the-pines-out
      sierra forest ridges night—
Masa comes in, letting fresh cool air   
      sweep down from the door   
      a deep sweet breath
And she tips him over gripping neatly, one knee down
      her hair falling hiding one whole side of
      shoulder, breast, and belly,   
Washes deftly Kai’s head-hair
      as he gets mad and yells—
The body of my lady, the winding valley spine,
      the space between the thighs I reach through,
      cup her curving vulva arch and hold it from behind,   
      a soapy tickle                a hand of grail
The gates of Awe
That open back a turning double-mirror world of   
      wombs in wombs, in rings,
      that start in music,
                                          is this our body?

The hidden place of seed
The veins net flow across the ribs, that gathers   
      milk and peaks up in a nipple—fits
      our mouth—
The sucking milk from this our body sends through   
      jolts of light; the son, the father,
      sharing mother’s joy
That brings a softness to the flower of the awesome   
      open curling lotus gate I cup and kiss
As Kai laughs at his mother’s breast he now is weaned   
      from, we
      wash each other,
                                          this our body

Kai’s little scrotum up close to his groin,
      the seed still tucked away, that moved from us to him   
In flows that lifted with the same joys forces
      as his nursing Masa later,
      playing with her breast,
Or me within her,
Or him emerging,
                                          this is our body:

Clean, and rinsed, and sweating more, we stretch   
      out on the redwood benches hearts all beating   
Quiet to the simmer of the stove,
      the scent of cedar
And then turn over,
      murmuring gossip of the grasses,
      talking firewood,
Wondering how Gen’s napping, how to bring him in   
      soon wash him too—
These boys who love their mother
      who loves men, who passes on
      her sons to other women;

The cloud across the sky. The windy pines.   
      the trickle gurgle in the swampy meadow

      this is our body.

Fire inside and boiling water on the stove
We sigh and slide ourselves down from the benches   
      wrap the babies, step outside,

black night & all the stars.

Pour cold water on the back and thighs
Go in the house—stand steaming by the center fire   
Kai scampers on the sheepskin
Gen standing hanging on and shouting,

“Bao! bao! bao! bao! bao!”

This is our body. Drawn up crosslegged by the flames   
      drinking icy water
      hugging babies, kissing bellies,

Laughing on the Great Earth   

Come out from the bath.

Gary Snyder, “The Bath” from Turtle Island. Copyright © 1974 by Gary Snyder. Reprinted with the permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation.

Source: No Nature: New and Selected Poems (1992)

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Poet Gary Snyder b. 1930

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Nature, Relationships, The Body

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 Gary  Snyder

Biography

Gary Snyder began his career in the 1950s as a noted member of the “Beat Generation,” though he has since explored a wide range of social and spiritual matters in both poetry and prose. Snyder’s work blends physical reality and precise observations of nature with inner insight received primarily through the practice of Zen Buddhism. While Snyder has gained attention as a spokesman for the preservation of the natural world and . . .

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SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Nature, Relationships, The Body

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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