Poets & Writers

A Poet a Day: Alice Walker

“You Too Can Look, Smell, Dress, Act This Way”

A Poet a Day: Alice Walker

During these trying days of social distancing, self-isolating and quarantines, days rife with fear and anxiety, my colleagues and I thought you might like some company. So each day we will be introducing you to poets we have met over the years. The only contagion they will expose you to is a measure of joy, reflection and meditation brought on by “the best words in the best order.”
Enjoy.
— Bill Moyers

In this clip from Bill Moyers’s interview with Alice Walker, she talks about why meditation is so important to her and reads a poem inspired by primatologist Jane Goodall. Today, April 3, is Jane Goodall’s 86th birthday. Happy birthday, Jane!

“You Too Can Look, Smell, Dress, Act This Way”

You too can look, smell, dress, act this way. Whenever I notice advertising, how they can tuck away your nipples and suck off your hips, and make you smell like nobody who’s ever lived, I like to think of Jane Goodall. Plain Jane Goodall.

I like to imagine her hunkered down motionless, quiet, observant of wild chimpanzees in the bush. Her gray hair tugged off her honest face — with a rubber band I bet. While she studies the body proud cousins looking for clues about why we are so dissatisfied. Sometimes a person’s name just suits them. Jane. Nothing you can do with Jane except say it. Jane Goodall.

Advertising never seems to reach Jane. Her hips always appear to be just where they always were. Her breasts never strain to declare themselves. Each time she emerges blinking out of the mists, she’s wearing the exact same white blouse and indifferent blue skirt.

She never seems to have heard of a makeup that wasn’t character. If I could sniff Jane Goodall, as her friends the chimpanzees do, I know she would smell just like her name. Like no advertiser’s perfume ever touched her. No surgeon’s shears ever trimmed such ample integrity. She would smell like Earth, air, water, ancient forest, and like no man was ever there.

This interview is from “A World of Ideas,” a series of half-hour conversations with scientists, writers, artists, philosophers and historians exploring the ideas and values shaping our future. Learn more about the series, which aired in 1988 and 1990.

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