The Digger Papers (August, 1968)
The Birth of Digger
O sky glorious, O sky divine — People — dominions — nations — Heavens
— door — O walking deliverance — O Passage — People — O
People — Machines — Animals — Trees — Towers & Bridges — O Seed
— O colors — Faces — All Moving Things — Life, hello . . . I want to
tell you of the birth of Digger.
Morning, about 9:30, July 5th, 1967 -- clear and sunny upon the city,
the sky echoing with happiness, the streets still and clean and just to
walk on them is to be silent in the bright rising from the night after a
big 4th of July electric music and free feed celebration out in the park
where Emmett and the cooks from the Fillmore had made barbecue for about
I am up early and out into the street from Peter Cohon's on Pine Street
where the Communication Company lived -- out and standing in the good day
with the smiles all over me, just letting the warmth and the light honey
about on me, my clothes glowing and the fine feeling seeping to the skin
and a touch tasting to my innards, and O the head is just wanting to face
with smiles in all directions. I had driven Susan Parker to the airport a
couple days before and still had her car so I swings over a few blocks to
Geary thinking to have coffee and a morning smoke with the Jahrmarkts,
Billy and Joan and the kids.
Up two flights, rap rap on the door and Bill answers to my hello
half-dressed and happy. "The baby's coming," is what I remember
of him having said. And there is Joan sitting in the sun of those bright
windows looking out over downtown and the bay, sitting on the bed, the
mattress inevitably close to the floor, and the three kids -- Jade, Hassan
and Caledonia -- kind of hushed and happy because they know the baby is
coming and have been waiting too.
So Joany's been in labor since the night before and now sits very calm
with a $3 tin watch in her hand timing the contractions -- about every 7
minutes and getting closer together. So me and Billy just standing there
kind of stunned and sunny not thinking too much about what to do.
"You got any arrangements made?" I says, and "no" is
It kind of goes like that, having a cigarette and a cup of coffee in
the warmth of the morning in the corner room with just one fact we're
standing in -- the baby's coming and we are smiling and blinking lumenant
with speech in soft sounds. Nobody is thinking too much about hospitals
though we figure lightly first about getting Joan into one of those
places, but none too serious.
I sound on Joan if she thinks she got time for me to go phone around
and see what I can do, get help I guess is what I meant, and she says
there's plenty of time so I cut out and drive over to Margo St. James
place on Nob Hill and start phoning.
I get ahold of Kaiser Hospital and after about seven switchings back
and forth I get ahold of some voice that says No, there is no chance of
getting into their facilities without two hundred and fifty dollars in
front even if the baby is on the way right now, and that the only thing
that They, this voice, can suggest is to take The Expectant to County
Hospital, which said set of instructions vis-a-vis that exhausted brick
pile of agony so offends my ear I come near to throwing the phone across
So I phone Bill Fritsch to let somebody else know what's happening (who
tells Emmett who sends an ambulance which nobody quite knows what to do
with except send it away). So I clean out Margo's refrigerator of all its
food and drive back over to the Communication Company where is lovely Sam
and Cassandra and Claude and Helene who I break it down to.
Right away Claude is on the horn talking here and there. I get
Cassandra and head back to Billy's, drop off Cassandra and split down to
the store to get some smokes and am just rounding the corner on Geary when
Claude pulls up to tell me he is on his way to Bolinas to get John Doss, a
friend and Head of Pediatrics at Kaiser.
Upstairs is Cassandra cleaning the kitchen, making coffee and a bit to
eat for the kids. It is late morning now and we relax -- everything seems
to be going along unmolested by even the quiet logic of time -- Cassandra
softly busy in the kitchen, Billy sitting with Joan in the sunny corner
room, the kids hushed and talking among themselves in their room, and I
with the stillness of no thinking in my head gazing out the window under
the Bat flag at the greenish dome of city hall.
Rap rap on the door and I go to open it to Richard Brautigan who comes
in under a soft tan hat, checks out the action, spots Cassandra in the
kitchen, decides everthing is cool, walks once again through the rooms,
tall, slightly stooping like a gentle spider standing up (We are all
spiders, or ants, or something, I remember wondering, watching Richard
putting his hands in his pockets and taking them out) decides to split.
"Be back in a while -- need anything?" "No, nothing."
out the door he goes.
It's early afternoon now. Quite suddenly Joan gets up, walks into the
kitchen and squats down flat-footed on the floor with her back leaning to
the wall, contractions coming quicker, Billy kneeling with her, Cassandra
calm, me getting nervous -- smoking cigarettes.
Knock on the door and in comes Claude and Helene with John Doss, way
over 6 foot, a tower of a man with those huge gentle hands that by mere
holding can take the panic from a hurt child. All of a sudden it seems we
got the best. Right away he's with Joan, coat off, talking real easy,
squat'd down, laughing with the simplicity of things. Claude asks me if I
want to smoke some gold and lays a joint on me -- I take it and put it on
People begin arriving -- Billy Fritsch and Lenore, Bill much calmer
than the day before in the park loaded on acid and telling Richie Marley
real anxious, "There's a warp in the continuum!" Emmett arrives.
Diggers start coming.
By now the kitchen is a place of prayer -- Joan in labor on the big
patch quilt now in the middle of the kitchen floor and around her kneeling
and sitting silent people -- silent and back within listening to what
silence says at self to birth.
John Doss moves in from the crowded front room every now and again and
kneels his huge person down to speak quietly to Joan as he feels with
those giant hands across her belly for the baby within. Billy squats
Arab-silent flat-footed beside Joan, his hair long about his shoulders,
staring into the thick air that holds the deep flux of his unspeaking Arab
Now the city has darkened for night, and Geary Street outside the
window crawls alive with the homeward bound. Across the street the huge
sign of an auto-agency BOAZ, in Hebrew "the lion hearted" -- in
black and white and red letters sends ancient benedictions into the rooms,
and the green dome of city hall is alit as if it were a mosque removed one
world and glowing not with bulbs nor candle but rather ringed with another
Now from out the night John and Sara and Peter and Sam and Gandolf and
Natural Suzanne and more Diggers arrive like a troupe or miming chorus
bearing brown paper sacks filled with sandwiches -- huge Poor Boys from
some ecstasy delicatessen -- the picture: Joan about to give birth on the
kitchen floor, one dim shaded desk lamp by her feet, and a dozen people
encircling her eating sandwiches and smoking weed, faces all in shadow of
the only lamp.
The contractions have begun to quicken and Joany is saying over and
over again softly, "Come on little Baby . . . come on" -- a
little song over and over again directed inside as if by this time the
intelligence of the as yet enwombed Baby was beginning to be focused on
its birthing passage by the soft speech of Joany's song -- "Come on
Baby . . . come on little Baby . . . come on."
The labor was becoming long, more than 24 hours now and the
concentration of Joany's song had drawn the muscle lines tensed above her
eyes pointing to a spot between them, slightly above them, and directly
John Doss had a slightly worried look as his hands felt over her belly.
He seemed to be trying to gauge the position. Reaching within he felt for
the baby's head which seemed to be turned in a wrong direction. The
contractions were now great visible waves that moved down across Joan's
belly and with each one her tightened face appeared to have the full
focused power of everything behind it pouring down through her body toward
the slow and heavy workings and waves of force that carried the baby in
"I need an instrument," he said mentioning some sort of
birthing clamp. "I have to turn the baby's head." He turned to
someone there and told them to go across the street to the hospital and
get an instrument and an intern.
Meanwhile John begins instructing Billy in how he, Billy, is going to
receive his baby. Beneath the belly skin you can see the baby making its
movements. Around Joan about a dozen Diggers and Digger ladies looking
like all the accumulated faces of the Universe, the Divines of Ever
pouring from each eye.
Like no time there is bang on the door and two white coated hospital
guys come in stiff and important with shiney metal in their hands, take
one look at the scene and decide it won't do for them to have anything to
do with it. John Doss goes to meet them and they start backing off real
quick. John grabs one of the guys by the lapels and starts to jerk the
doctor's jacket off and gets it down to around the guy's elbows.
"Take off that coat and get to work in here, for Christ sake. Be a
doctor for once in your life!" he says to the guy.
"Take it easy John, take it easy," the other guy tries to
soothe. "This can't be done here . . . it's not sterile. She must be
moved to the hospital."
About this time I start to ride up. "She isn't going
anywhere," I says leaning across Joan at the guy. "Cool
it," Bill says from the floor. They split threatening an ambulance
and, for all we know, the Heat, so everybody settles down again with
"Come on baby" going very strong.
So John is back down with Billy showing him how to receive the baby,
when it starts to come out and so quick and easy it seems a miracle but
Billy has the baby's head in his hands and it looks like throughout the
whole scene of deliverance the baby had turned its own head and decided to
come on out and with a thick liquid whoosh is right in Billy's
hands. I am on my knees by Joany's head and I lean down with little more
than a whisper, "It's a boy."
With some cotton string John Doss ties off the umbilical cord and cuts
it with a pocket knife and the baby is born, out, free, alive and
beautiful crying in his father's hands so fast that it was not a process
of birth at last but life occurring.
John Doss begins cleaning up Joany and places the afterbirth in a
"Eat!" he says to the circle of joyously lighted faces
holding out the basin. "Everybody eat!" and starts carrying the
basin around from one to one and each dips a hand to the stuff of birth
and blood and tastes and never, from no dope I have ever taken, have I got
so instantly high. Somebody marks the time, 10:41, and asks Billy the
"Digger!" Billy answers back with a voice loud with single
word as its own rising song.
The bloodied ends of the umbilical tying string Billy takes and wraps
up in a poem I had made that afternoon to lay on the kitchen floor:
Velvet kneeling meat --
Crazyblood in his prayers
is all I remember.