May 8, 2003

Changing Diapers

by Gary Snyder

(RealAudio) | How to listen

Poem: "Changing Diapers," by Gary Snyder from No Nature (Pantheon).

Changing Diapers

How intelligent he looks!
        on his back
        both feet caught in my one hand
        his glance set sideways,
        on a giant poster of Geronimo
        with a Sharp's repeating rifle by his knee.

I open, wipe, he doesn't even notice
        nor do I.
Baby legs and knees
        toes like little peas
        little wrinkles, good-to-eat,
        eyes bright, shiny ears,
        chest swelling drawing air,

No trouble, friend,
        you and me       and Geronimo
        are men.

Literary Notes:

It's the birthday of Thomas Pynchon, born in Glen Cove, Long Island (1937). His novel Gravity's Rainbow (1973) won the Pulitzer Prize but the editorial board refused to grant him the award. They called it "obscene" and "unreadable," so no one won the Pulitzer for fiction that year. The book won the National Book Award too, but Pynchon refused to go to the awards ceremony to accept it. Gravity's Rainbow begins: "A screaming comes across the sky. It has happened before, but there is nothing to compare it to now."

It's the birthday of novelist Sloan Wilson, born in Norwalk, Connecticut (1920). His most successful novel was The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1955); it became an international bestseller. It's about Tom Rath, a 1950's World War II veteran who joins the corporate rat race because he wants a bigger house in the suburbs for his wife and kids.

It's the birthday of the literary critic Edmund Wilson, born in Red Bank, New Jersey (1895). He wrote over fifty books, and his interests were wide-ranging: he wrote about everything from John Steinbeck to the Dead Sea Scrolls; from the Iroquois Indians to Igor Stravinsky. He was a master of the essay and the memoir and the greatest diarist of his time. One of the things he wrote about most in his diaries was sex. He had four wives in his life, including the writer Mary McCarthy, and a long list of affairs. He didn't consider a sexual experience complete until he wrote about it, and many of the most explicit passages in his books are copied directly from his diaries. Wilson said that his favorite of his books was Memoirs of Hecate County (1946). It was a satire of suburbia, and a New York court banned it for obscenity. The prosecution said that the book contained twenty different "assorted acts of sexual debauchery" with four different women, which was even more than Lady Chatterley's Lover. One of the judges was hard of hearing, and so the alleged obscenities had to be shouted up to the bench. The publicity helped the book become a bestseller.

It's the birthday of Gary Snyder, born in San Francisco (1930). He started out as one of the Beat writers of the 1950's, and he's had a long, steady career as a poet, an environmental activist, a Zen Buddhist, and a hero to the counterculture. His book Turtle Island won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975. As a student he found summer work as a forest ranger, a logger, and a seaman, and in 1955 he worked on a trail crew at Yosemite National Park. These experiences became his first book, Riprap (1959). In 1956 he left the San Francisco Beat scene and went to Japan. He spent most of the next twelve years in a monastery, studying Buddhism. His friend Alan Watts wrote, "He is like a wiry Chinese sage with high cheekbones, twinkling eyes, and a thin beard, and the recipe for his character requires a mixture of Oregon woodsman, seaman, Amerindian shaman, Oriental scholar, San Francisco hippie, and swinging monk, who takes tough discipline with a light heart." He said, "As a poet I hold the most archaic values on earth. They go back to the Neolithic: the fertility of the soil, the magic of animals, the power-vision in solitude, the terrifying initiation and rebirth, the love and ecstasy of the dance, the common work of the tribe." He said, "A life that is vowed to simplicity, appropriate boldness, good humor, gratitude, unstinting work and play, and lots of walking brings us close to the actual existing world and its wholeness."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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