On Bathing

On Bathing

Maxwell Ryan
Jun 11, 2005

A shrink could probably make hay of it, but I'm not much of a shower person. There's something slightly nerve-wracking about getting into a little box and being pelted with water of uncertain temperature.

My Burmese friends tell me, all wide-eyed and serious, that a cold shower taken in the heat of day can be deadly--something about the dramatic shift in body temperature--and perhaps there's a part of me that buys into the superstition.

So, give me a bath.

In cool weather I prefer, in my family's parlance, a long-hot-soaky-bath, with candles and novels, but in hot weather I want a quick cool dip a couple of times a day.

I drop in a bit of eucalyptus oil for extra cooling and soap up with a little Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap (not too much, or it'll sting!), or Body Shop Satsuma, or some of our own homemade melt-and-pour soap concoctions, and I lie back for just a minute or two and dream of juleps. I get out and drip-dry, and then fling St. Luke's Prickly Heat Powder all over myself.

Prickly Heat Powder is a mentholated talc available at Thai groceries in Chinatown (like Bangkok Center Grocery at 102 Mosco St.), and is my summer lifesaver.

But today I'm in the office, and summer casual notwithstanding, there's no tub in sight. So to literature for relief I turn.

First stop: modernism. Ezra Pound, ever the downer, has this to say on the subject:

The Bath Tub

As a bathtub lined with white porcelain,
When the hot water gives out or goes tepid,
So is the slow cooling of our chivalrous passion,
O my much praised but-not-altogether-satisfactory lady.

Ezra Pound, Lustra, 1913 via Poetry X


Hmmm. As Pound's friend and rival T.S. Eliot put it, "That is not what I meant at all. / That is not it, at all.'' Well, how's about a detour into Imagism, Amy Lowell-style?


... Little spots of sunshine lie on the surface of the water and dance, dance, and their reflections wobble deliciously over the ceiling; a stir of my finger sets them whirring, reeling. I move a foot, and the planes of light in the water jar. I lie back and laugh, and let the green-white water, the sun-flawed beryl water, flow over me. The day is almost too bright to bear, the green water covers me from the too bright day. I will lie here awhile and play with the water and the sun spots....

Amy Lowell, from "Spring Day," Men, Women, and Ghosts, 1916, via Project Gutenburg


Getting better, perhaps, but not quite refreshing enough. Onward into contemporary poetry. Matthea Harvey's Pity the Bathtub Its Forced Embrace of the Human Form is great reading, with deliciously slippery "hinged lines." The title poem is worth reading in full at Boston Review.

And if all that isn't enough, dive back in to J.D. Salinger. Zooey spends most of the novel Franny and Zooey smoking in the tub, and, in a nice bit of reflexivity, readers of his story "The Laughing Man" will find this true: "You could always take it home with you and reflect on it while sitting, say, in the outgoing water in the bathtub."

It's Bathroom Month at AT--enjoy.



Photo credit: massdistraction via Flickr

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