THE BATHHOUSE OF BABA TAHER
Meeting between two poets
May 10, 2002
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
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 ashes were taken to Rome and buried in the English cemetary where Keats is also
"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.
Washed by the sea