Ode to a toilet
Cloacina, O goddess inspiring this place,
you receive my emissions with bountiful grace;
you most graciously take insalubrious waste
and remove it from sight with impeccable taste;
but I ask you, today, to accept something more:
it's a poem in praise of the place I adore,
an intemperate eulogy, dumped without wit
and unworthy of entering your palace of shit.
I submit it to you, Cloacina, who cope
with the objects that float without faith, love or hope.
Your ceramic repository handles the dung:
I assume it will cope with these lines that I've sung.
They are lower than pooh and less wholesome as well;
they don't nourish the earth with a natural smell;
they remain on a dusty, unsortable shelf
and are still more derided than faeces itself.
Would you look at these lines, with their metrical words
and absorb them while channelling infamous turds?
for I think that these droppings might bring recognition
to something profound in the human condition,
a something beyond the great marvel you do
in prodigiously managing townships of pooh.
O sublime Cloacina, your miracle starts
with the way that you foster magnificent arts.
You abide in the dankest of plumbing but flow
to the loftiest realms where the spirit can go.
I'm invoking you now not to spare me my pains
as a poet, like anyone, labours and strains;
it is not for the tight metaphoric relation
of searching for rhymes to extreme constipation
and nor for some anal, perverse love of stains
or the flatulent fetid emissions from drains;
it is not for the pooh or the high satisfaction
that comes with the final relaxing contraction;
it's this, Cloacina, your sacrosanct peace,
an asylum for true intellectual release
which indulges your supplicants, grants them a pause
and the privacy proper to lavatory doors.
While the world all around makes demands without end
and the time is bespoken that people might spend,
there's a precious hiatus, a time for respite
unavailable both through the daytime and night,
because busy agendas compel one's attention
and clutch at one's conscience with jealous contention.
Away from your sanctuary, memos abound.
They confront me with urgency, nag me and hound.
I'm required to monitor, test and improve,
to increase our performance, show evidence, prove.
It's a culture of bossy surveillance and work
which reduces achievement and sends us berserk:
it submits us to flatter a pen-pushing mob
and prevents us from gracefully doing our job.
There is always a document passing around
with a cheap, bureaucratic but fashionable sound
to ensure that we strategize, tighten our polity,
hone our objectives and strengthen our quality,
kitsch that describes the well-known as a 'mission',
and critical thinking as virtual sedition.
Such pompousness never survives in the toilet.
The visceral spirits instinctively spoil it.
The books that are drawn to this magical zone
are the ones that I want to peruse on my own:
they're the loftiest tomes of illustrious text,
perhaps satires today and some sonnets the next.
It is here that I read the enchanted Molière
as his critical harp plucks a delicate air.
I await with a throb the next act and the scene
for the keen denouement in the measured Racine.
It is here that Marino can sing from above
with lascivious rhymes of voluptuous love.
It's a salon, a theatre, a bower, a cove,
a contemporary deep Heliconian grove
where the Hippocrene flushes with fresh inspiration
with buoyancy even in quiet stagnation.
Not elsewhere, but here, lies the temple of wit.
It's absurd that your shrine is related to shit.
Though the toilet is linked to unsavoury smells
it's the place where the spirit of Helicon dwells
but like anything apotropaic, the stink
is a gargoyle beneath whose grotesqueness I think:
I can think in a way that the clean air prevents
with its absence of wholesome and corporal scents.
It is not that the stink is a boon in itself
or that smelly conditions appeal to myself
but the state that they signify pleases the mind
by releasing its powers from the business-like grind.
If the air in the public domain is so clean
it does not for that reason make thinking more keen;
if it's public, it's public, and all that's within
is held tightly inside, as if shame or a sin.
The administrative onslaught is stopped at this door
that contains all the smells that inhabit my core.
For the toilet to have such a mean reputation
reflects psychological alienation:
a distance from nature and leisure, a split
which is justified under a horror or shit.
It's as if the condition of work signals purity,
freedom from smell and hygienic security;
hence the remission allowed by this door
is a kind of transgression that people deplore
an indulgence that's stigmatized meanly as smelly
and steeped in the refuse that pours from the belly.
Puritanical people can say what they say
but for me, it's the healthiest, ripest bouquet;
and the clinical places that puritans seek
are the ones which for me most offensively reek.
What they stink of is all that the toilet excludes,
the oppressive pinched nose of responsible moods.
There's a special aroma that toilets emit
and it's not the olfactory genius of shit
but the odour of freedom, a washing away
of the stresses that threaten the mood for the day;
for the toilet removes the dysfunctional moods
just as much as the pong that the faeces exudes.
Furthermore, it's the toilet that's cleaner by far
than the socialized zones that anxieties mar.
It's a sanitary palace for more than ablution:
it's everywhere else that is steeped in pollution.
It's true that it's structured to serve defecation
but what it supplies is a deeper purgation,
the cleaning of time from obsessions of work
which the world has made harder and harder to shirk.
In the world where we work, there is nothing but muck
in which lucid conceptions are doomed to get stuck;
but within, the poetically neutral is dumped.
There is life in the thoughts that have previously slumped.
I regain a delight in their vigour and feel
that compared to its complement, this is more real.
For a number of quarantined minutes each day
an enlightened poetic condition holds sway.
I neglect that I ought to be writing a paper
to answer the next managerial caper:
instead of a text of strategic inanity,
poems restore me to temporary sanity;
rather than dwelling on pompous advice
I remove to this haven-discounting the price-
and before I withdraw from the world of pretence
I experience zeal which is strong and intense:
in an instant I comb through the library: where
is a book that will honour the mood that is there?
Perhaps Dante or Petrarch, Cervantes or Donne
or a yarn that the gentle Bandello has spun.
To be sweetly sequestered from daily concerns
is a privilege that every true masterpiece earns.
It's the ultimate irony: only in here
can they live without dull persecution and fear.
It's as if in the sequence of groaning and pains
all oppressive obsessions are flushed down the drains.
That unpleasurable pressure-unyielding and numbing-
requires an outlet with excellent plumbing.
The evil dysfunctional humours must flow
where the worst of our bodily discharges go.
If a concept was ever poetic, that's it:
we dispatch our concerns where we empty the shit.
It's the brightest of thrones, Cloacina, for yours
automatically swallows both faeces and chores;
it relieves us of wind and anxiety too:
it unburdens the psyche while venting the pooh.
The identical seat that excludes the absurd
undertakes to remove the intractable turd.
The motif that is proper for purging the bowel
is appropriate, too, for the psychically foul.
One is free in the organs as well as the mind
and is able to pass all vexations behind.
Am I honest, however, to speak of this passion
in such an objective and clinical fashion,
as if the affection had little to do
with the primal delight of delivering pooh?
Let me say that a gutsy connexion exists
but is sensed where the rational mind most persists.
Or perhaps I invoke disingenuous purity
only to cover perverse insecurity.
Toilets defy an objective position:
they're less of a place than a psychic condition.
The interest and vital prestige that are there
are related to visceral things that they share.
Let me therefore delete all the 'ifs' and the 'buts':
the importance and onus derive from the guts.
What the toilet requires and services well
may have little to do with the pooh and the smell
but in drawing our minds from the daily vexations
it proffers unarguable justifications.
This force doesn't come from the plumbing or towels.
The persuasive authority comes from the bowels.
There was never a call that could not be deferred
to compare with the crisis of doing a turd.
Among all the expressions of urgency, none
is so pressing for doing what needs to be done.
There are things you can shirk-people might get annoyed
-but there's one that's impossibly hard to avoid.
You can doggedly skip the occasional meal;
you can somehow get over a dinner's appeal;
you can also survive in not going to bed
and maintaining a vigil until you're half-dead;
you can suffer these hardships and languish deprived
yet in working so late, you will still have survived.
But this corporal tolerance doesn't apply
with a call to the toilet. You have to comply
and are grievously punished for every delay
or 'important' distraction that gets in your way:
you resent importunate and rude interventions
and seethe with compulsive disgusting intentions.
Whatever prevents you from dropping your pants
makes you grimace and groan in a bent-over dance,
unbecoming, unbearable, painful, alarming.
You wonder what burstable organs you're harming.
I'm ready to faint when I think of this crisis.
For torture, it doubles all Papal devices:
no thumbscrew or rack could reduce you to tears
with the agonized speed of these gut-churning fears.
It's impossible even to try to resist.
You capitulate. Heroism doesn't exist:
its stupidity, set in its dumbest expression
for smiting both reason and pooh with suppression.
This urgency, force and most sovereign need
has a tug that no chain of command can exceed.
Thus superior force overcomes the inferior.
All that's outside cannot match the interior:
mightier urgencies carry along
what was formerly deemed irresistibly strong.
But then how, you might ask, does this urgency swing
to establish a court in which poets can sing,
if it's all about not being able to wait
and embodies an anxious embarrassing state?
If it cancels a pressure by one that's more taxing
it can't be conducive to gently relaxing.
The mystery deep in the toilet's condition
belongs to a moment of grunting transition,
a sacrament moved from the pulse of the guts
when the anus is open for dumping then shuts.
At this moment the rush-which has just overcome
what was urgent before-falls away from your bum.
You experience wholesome and consummate joy,
as relief from all pressure is there to enjoy.
The condition of stress is unthinkable then
and you wallow in bliss till it rises again.
This delectable aftermath charges the heart
with affection and zeal for the blessing of art.
It can last half an hour, in which you can read
without having to measure your profit or speed:
you absorb the seraphic poetic condition
and live for the grace of a privileged remission.
The shades of innumerable poets come 'round
with ethereal clear incantational sound
and proclaim your enlightenment, shed from above
and infusing your soul with both knowledge and love.
In a toilet today we're enthroned on our own
in a room that's designed so you do it alone
where in previous epochs, communal attention
was happily borne in a smelly convention,
an intimate congress for group-defecation,
an ill-scented altar for public oblation.
That trade between private and public has gone.
One used to talk freely while still crapping on.
What the Romans adored was a toilet for many.
One had to have few inhibitions, if any.
Of course we admire this access to pleasure
which made of the toilet a ritual of leisure,
which fostered a culture of free conversation
and made the experience high recreation.
This social dimension is missing today
and one enters a toilet with nothing to say.
The unsocialized toilet denies conversation.
Its structure expresses our alienation.
Yet something is gained in the solitary way
that we empty our bowels in the toilet today:
it's the chance to converse with the ghosts of the past
in a world where the future approaches too fast.
With the shy isolation that goes with our times
I encounter these ghosts through the tone of their rhymes.
I absorb what they said at the height of their being,
neglecting their output of pooping and peeing.
The world is distilled: we've deleted the chaos
and silence and solitude amply repay us.
It's not for the present that toilets best serve
the delights of conversing with passion and verve
but for hallowed eternity. Poets converse
in the places conducive to listening to verse.
In antiquity, places for song would abound
where today we're drowned out by executive sound;
so the place to which poetry has to recede
is where poets alone can decide what to read.
But a final agreeable sentiment hits me
as though some resentment for hiding here shits me.
I'm forced to retreat to the toiled to read,
to be exiled or gaoled by myself to be freed,
but in meeting historical shades in this place
I'm accorded a casual and generous space;
the most awesome of bards are encountered as friends.
No one feels an embarrassed or angry objection.
One shares both the wit and the pride with affection.
As well as becoming less stiff and official
the reading of poems seems less artificial;
it's linked to a natural process and fits
with the same kind of rhythm one knows when one shits.
One is free of a table, a desk or a shelf.
One is there with a text and a turd and oneself.
It is earthy and basic. The mind can emote
in a way that is neither enclosed nor remote.
That most cultured expression that's almost effete
becomes easy and natural viewed from this seat.
It is free of all agonized cultural strain
and yields natural joy without study or pain.
Cloacina, this magical realm of relief
comprehends the divine and exceeds all belief.
Puritanical souls may be shocked that I sit
reading Lope or Donne in the place where I shit
but it's they who miss out on the noble remain
of a shrine that intones with poetical strains,
the surviving and permanent temple of verse
in a world where the muse is denounced with a curse.
It's to here that the sacred has had to recede,
with support from a strict biological need.
By discreetly protracting one's day-to-day crap
I still drink from the fresh Heliconian tap
and no plumbing will service the Muses so well
till our managers harrow Parnassus to Hell.
If you've any comments on his cloacal
Nelson. would be pleased to hear from you.