Yale Class of 1975

Poetry Project, Week 4

From Bubbs Creek Haircut

High ceilinged and the double mirrors, the calendar a splendid alpine scene – scab barber – in
stained white barber gown, alone, sat down, old man

a summer fog fray San Francisco day

I walked right in. On Howard Street
          haircut a dollar twenty-five

Just clip it close as it will go.

          “Now why you want your hair cut back like that.”

          – Well I’m going to the Sierras for a while

Bubbs Creek and on across to upper Kern.

          He wriggled his clippers

“Well I been up there, I built the cabin up at Cedar Grove. In nineteen five.”

          Old haircut smell.

— Gary Snyder

Malcom (Mic) Fleming: One of my favorite poems has always been Bubbs Creek Haircut by Gary Snyder, who among many awards, was the recipient of Yale’s Bollingen Prize for American Poetry. Before we moved to Greece from the Pacific Northwest, my wife and I had 1500 books. For the move, we decided to bring only 60. What would make the cut? In addition to three Yale History of Art textbooks, my stash included my 1965 edition of Gary Snyder’s Six Selections from Mountains and Rivers Without End, which I bought long ago at City Lights Books in San Francisco. The book is a talisman for me, but it’s only coincidental that in my old age my beard looks a lot like Snyder’s.

Although many know Gary Snyder for his associations with the Beat Generation and interests in Zen Buddhism, I have always liked his work for championing the environment. Indeed, he is often honored for his consistent concerns for the environment.

My particular affection for Bubbs Creek involves a personal anecdote that fondly reminds me of earlier days of unbridled optimism and certain naivetés.

My first command in the Army was of a truck company in Ludwigsburg, Germany, responsible for 180 teenage soldiers driving all over West Germany. I was required to give a weekly presentation to them called “Command Information.” It could be any topic of my choosing that generally improved morale, cohesion and professional understanding of the mission. My drivers had seen the Alps, crossed the Rhine and Danube, and bivouacked (“camped out”) in many of Germany’s beautiful forests. “Why not help them see and appreciate these wonders around them but also consider the beauty of the land in our own country?” said the young Lieutenant.

So one gray Saturday morning I read Bubbs Creek Haircut to them. Unbelievable as I look back, especially considering how long the poem is. While I do remember one wise guy commenting on our own short haircuts, a couple of others fondly recalled hiking, fishing and hunting trips with fathers and friends. It was a quiet moment, which I’ve never forgotten.

Above is the poem’s evocative opening.