"Ode to a Composting Toilet"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
April 12 2011 5:10 AM

"Ode to a Composting Toilet"

Click the arrow on the audio player to hear Sharon Olds read this poem. You can also download the recording or subscribe to Slate's Poetry Podcast on iTunes.


And then, at the green inn, there
it was, the magic chamber—in goes
one thing, out comes another—where what we
make is made into fertilizer,
the hopper an enamel tank where the liquids
are separated from the solids, where the enzymes
and vinegar, in the forest-green
interior, do their unpaid
labor, and what can be used again
sinks down to where it can be harvested,
near-odorless. We do not think
our shit smells good, but we do not think
the earth should be turned into a great cesspool
to accommodate our desire to part from our
offal as fast as possible.
In this drying cabinet, shit happens,
and then, over time, it alters its nature,
its little busy toxins die,
it turns to arable waste—waste
no longer, waste not want not. As in
a blood bank, but dirtier,
soilier, the effluvium of the offspring
of the earth mingles: fertilizer of
New Hampshire, Kenya, New York, Boston—
Yankees shit, Red Sox shit,
in excremental harmony;
vegan shit, kosher shit,
slow food, fast, vegetarian,
fruititarian, even the sorrowful
wisps of anorexic shit,
and Calvinist shit, and Kabbala shit,
Halliburton employee shit,
Orthodox shit, Puritan shit,
lesbian shit, nympho virgin
poet chick shit. Seas and rivers
love the composting toilet, lakes and
streams sparkle its praises, and the small
creatures of the pond and creek
keen for it—dark green machine
like a porcelain throne, though its royal flush
is inside it. Come sit on it, come be
its queen or king.


Sharon Olds' most recent book is One Secret Thing. She teaches in the graduate creative-writing program at New York University.



The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10


Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
Oct. 1 2014 8:34 AM Going Private To undertake a massively ambitious energy project, you don’t need the government anymore.
Oct. 1 2014 9:13 AM What Is It Like to Be an Egyptologist?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 8:46 AM The Vintage eBay Find I Wore to My Sentencing
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 1 2014 7:30 AM Say Hello to Our Quasi-Moon, 2014 OL339
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.