"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.


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