I Ain’t Shakin’ Hands With W.H. Auden

          Auden criticized as “mean” the “American habit of washing one’s hands after pissing, as if the penis were an object, too filthy for any decent person to touch.”

                                    Journal, August 30, 1938 to November 26, 1939

One of the things some poets don’t understand
is the necessity, after the . . . uh, act, of washing one’s hands.
I think I know what you mean when you say “mean,”
definition 6: “ignoble; base; small-minded; petty,”
although others might say the point is merely keeping clean.

I’ve been guilty of the same crime,
lots of times;
more often than not,
by which I mean, uh, quite a lot.

Your countryman, J.L. Austin, once pointed out
a principle of whose validity there is little doubt,
and I quote it at length for your instruction:
at some parties “to pretend to behave vulgarly is, alas, to behave vulgarly.”
From this premise you may infer a corollary deduction:

Sometimes all of us–poets, beggars, kings–
have to do things
whose point has never been clear since we were told to by our mothers;
you do them not for yourself, but for others.

If your wife or partner doesn’t hear the water running
after you’ve taken care of your urinary business
you may find some passion missing
when you get to kissing.

And so I beg ya,
please wash, I’ll take my stand:
I don’t want to shake a hand
covered with smegma.


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