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Meeting between two poets

May 10, 2002
The Iranian

I half collapsed across the doorstep. I slowly peeled off my soaking clothes and hung them on a very wet clothesline, dragging myself across the yard, and squeezed into a scalding bath.

Shelley was already there. Coming half out of the bath and stretching out his arm to help me in. I had scrubbed his back as he squatted on a little wooden bench.

Washed by the sea

The rocks of Futami

Are klean and kinky

We lolled gratefully in the bath after our long walk to Hamadan for a glimpse of Baba Taher. Shelley's father had wanted to send him to an asylum for trying to raise the devil after he wrote his first story Zastrozzi and had dreams of fire. When he finished his 12 cantons of The Revolt of Islam his father decided to send him to Persia to take a bath in Baba Taher's Bathhouse while reciting Persian poetry. A shabby darvish grinning with a forelock dripping on his forehead.

After drenching him with a ladle I began to lather his back. He had come to Hamadan with only the expectation of getting a bowl of rice. What pride he must have felt to have me rub him with soap as tenderly as if he was my brother. We could see the Dome of the Allahvis through the window beyond the apple trees.

I met Shelley at Oxford among the twisted pines and rocks in a summer of butterflies into red maple leaves and then chrysanthemums. He was carrying a mandolin wrapped in a great piece of white silk.

He wae expelled from Oxford for writing The Necessity of Atheism. He was a frail bell of republicism, atheism, vegetarianism and above all freelove, glistening like rain on the windowpane.

We took out the hibachi and some charcoal and grilled peppers and drank sake. We watched the dried-fish man who had his boxes tied to the ends of a bamboo pole which he carried over his shoulder. His only blemish was a shrill, harsh discordant voice which strangely resembled Percy when he was high on laudanum.

I could hear Percy's hasty steps as we approached the pool near Baba Taher's Bathhouse sailing little white boats on cherry blossoms. Prometheus Unbound Shelley and Baba Taher splashed with blood. Dreams of bird-watching green exotic birds in the branches of Persian chenars. His face was scarlet from the hot bath as he took his time over breakfast reading the Persian paper. The caravansara in Hamadan had lost touch with discomfort and the dull lasting touch of Shir-e-Sangi left out placing phone calls in the middle of the night, a yowling dragged cat wearing a hat.

Shelley's outsized passions and eccentricities caught fire in Hamadan. He leaned toward surrealism and pure abstraction with emphisis on freelove and creating a little hell of his own. Full blue eys, fair hair riding a white pony in the lanes when he was home ill from Eaton in Sussex.

At six he could read Greek and Latin with keen interest in Persian. Born and bred an Englishman, fighting for Ireland with scuffed suede shoes he made sure everyone knew it. Mumbling poetry and doing brave things for honor cut short in summer.

It's easy to see why he exasperated his father marrying a girl of sixteen when he was nineteen and later when she commited suicide marrying Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin from London. aloso sixteen. He pushed his passions to the extreme, to the rediculous wearinfg nasty Venician masks releasing noxious gas.

What his father could not grasp in the service of the Duke of Norfolk was that his son dressed in the frock of Oxford was in a gulag. He wanted to write poetry from the heart on a huge canavas with images silk-screened onto them. The moslems mystical, hazy religious piety entered his poetry like rubber band on his wrist in yellow moonlight, wrapped in a hot, wet towel flying a kite.

Rise like Lions after slumber

In unvanquishable number

Shake your chains to earth like dew

Which in sleep had fallen on you -

Ye are many - they are few.

A kiss through the glass window woke me up bleary-eyed trying to catch up with my sleep. He came in and was looking at me through the insect netting. I failed to look up and he clapped his hands sharply, as if to summon a servant, or a god. I frowned at him. He nodded silently. I dressed to go out kutting a kuick spark. We found strwberries, kueers and old headless dragons in the bazaar.

The scent of fresh cut oranges drifted in the air as we neared Baba Taher's Bathhouse. Shelley rolled on the grass in ecstacy. He raged like a crab and fell on me. He was the salt of the earth even if he was too fond of the bottle. Apologetic, down on his luck he attached himself to Baba Taher like a lost dog.

The meeting between the two poets in the bath was filled with French Parfume, soaps of all colors, toothbrushes, nose and tongue scrapers. A thousand artefacts to make the skin white in the shape of powders, pastes, liquids and even pieces of chalk. A whole assortment of brushes, puffs and files. Hairpins and tortise shell combs and just one or two little rings. Baba Taher and Shelley drank beer together. The glasses were warm. In the brutal stench of sweat and funk they became friends in the bath scrubbing each others backs.

We walked with Baba Taher to Ilam to see the bridge of Bahram-e-Chubin and the arch of Farhad and Shireen. Typhoon clouds swept across the sky. A thick mist was hidden in the hills. Shelley told us about his wife Mary who wrote Frankenstein on stormy June nights on the shores of Lake Leman, near Geneva almost in the shadow of the Alps, but now spent her time laundering Percy's underpants while Percy wrote poetry and walked in his sleep.

Baba Taher's wife was a Geisha, the daughter of a station master at Fujisawa. They met in a bathhouse in Hirosake. Her eyes burned and her face showed excitement. Baba Taher handed her the soap and she busied herself with his legs. Pardon me for disturbing you, she said. He said, if you please, take your time. And that's how they started their coutship. After they were married, she went with him to Hamadan and set up the Bathouse of Baba Taher.

The mountain tulip lasts but seven days

And I will cry the news from town to town

The river violet lives but seven days

That rosy cheek keeps faith but seven days

Sang Baba Taher as we walked down the old road, shadowed with trees, plenty pissed. His Gisha had abandoned him and took all the parfumes and soaps to the new bathhouse in Tabriz next to the Blue Mosque built by Jahanshah.

Shelley returned to San Terenzo on the bay of Lerici in Italy and his secret life with Mary. From Hamadan he brought her little gifts of sweets, pashmak, baghlava and ghottab and a Bakhtiari rug.

The fisherman stretched their thin rope across the river searching for Shelley's body. He had gone out to sea on his schooner, Don Juan, with a book of Keats in one pocket and a book of Baba Taher in the other. The boat overturned in a storm and he drowned in the sea of Spezia with the ghosts of Xerxes at 29.

His body was burned on the beach and his heart was saved by Mary Shelley along with the klean underpants he was wearing. Wine, oil and salt were thrown on the pyre and the two books of poetry by Keats and Baba Taher. Also burned was his book by Aeschylus "The Persians".

The ashes were taken to Rome and buried in the English cemetary where Keats is also buried.

"Nothing of him doth fade

But doth suffer a sea change

Into something rich and strange. "

A note written by Shelley was found on the sand folded like a paper boat. Baba, I'm sending you a few Italian underpants like mine. Let's have one more cup of chai. Ciao

Washed by the sea

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