My oldest daughter said something cool I should have written down, some witty pun the way she does, and I told her you should go put that in a poem, but she just laughed at me in a mocking voice that sounds remarkably like Cartman from South Park. She’s not allowed to watch South Park, though I’ve never checked the parenting controls on the computer and she is a whiz bang super devious autistic kid who seems to be able to figure out anything computer related. Once she even “Rick Rolled’ her teacher’s essay assignment. You’d click to open the attachment and there he was, Rick Astley never going to give you up. She holds the record for 5th grade suspension. Another time she figured out how to make her fourth-grade peers’ math program say, “you’re an idiot” every time they got a wrong math problem. She says poems are boring, and I tell her Sacrilege, pronounce it with a French accent because I suspect an unexpected revolution in this literary house, and I tell her you can make a poem about anything. And she says anything? And I say, of course,
so, she says—how did I not see this coming—can you write me a poem all about poop? Why yes, I say trying not to laugh, and then she says I didn’t think you ‘d actually try, and I say, you see it’s all about the labor, the labor to push it out. I worked with a woman who once emerged from the staff bathroom after disappearing for a good half-hour and exclaimed, that was harder than pushing out my fourth child. She looked so proud. My daughter likes to sneak up on people and yell diarrhea, truly one of the worst sounding words in the English language, but poop is something different, derived “from Old French pupe, from a variant of Latin puppis ‘stern’.” Stern but silly, it helps us to accept our bodies, and of course, I think of Freud, that idea of control and not wanting to let go what we have made. Our first creative act is to poop! But pooping can kill you too. How many millions die of malaria or dysentery every year? The body unable to hold what it must retain. Or should I call it shit, (I know that is a bad word, but this is a poem. You can use whatever word you want in a poem). Shit is a much “harder” sound despite the sibilance, derived from the Proto-German skit that meant to separate or divide, and without any connotation of judgement or vulgarity for centuries, it was only a word to describe what the body expels. The insulting word back then was “turd.” Which might be what all this poop is truly about, to name someone a piece of shit,
a turd, to give us agency to expel them and make them less than us. For what do we call the work that doesn’t pay a lot, like the jobs your parents work, these shit jobs, done for minimum wages by people who often speak another language— Kaka! Mierda! Tae! La cagada, many with or without papers like the women I worked with on that cleaning crew in Lawrence. They’d roll up to the supermarkets after they closed in a white van and spilled out to join us motley gang of temp laborers and students working for the summer, those women made the toilets gleam and swayed and hummed with headphones on as they sweated, winking and flirting with our foreman, this Puerto Rican dude named Mackie who ran the show. On break, in jeans and industrial smocks the women would pass cigarettes and share worn-edged photos from their wallets of their children, here or overseas, as we ran the floor polishers. Sometimes one of them might start to sing. Some pop song with Spanish lyrics, some funky groove, and sometimes someone might be moved, and stood and danced something close to Cumbia, step, step, spinning and turning right there in the parking lot as everyone sitting on the curb clapped. Then Mackie yelled back to work, ariba, rapido.
In the morning, the managers and cashiers would arrive. I wonder if they ever glanced and admired the shining floors? If they ever sat to take a crap and thought a thanks for who replaced the toilet paper with the right side facing down?
Or all the black and brown women and men I’ve worked beside as nurses’ aides and caregivers, wiping the feces of old white people who don’t even know their own names. The women who carefully lifted a body to bathe, running a gloved hand across the paper-fragile skin, turning them every two hours as they slept. The workers who took a moment between rushing to change sheets, who wheeled the grandmothers on the porch to sit and smile and hum in the sun. Consuela with her eight kids and never-ending birthdays, flus, teacher and doctor appointments, somehow never calling off; Monique with her bartender-pool-playing-girlfriend drama and her tattoos of spider webs who could recite nine years of names of every resident she’d taken care. Fantasia with her butch hair cut close to her scalp, only 4 feet, 11 she could superbly turn a body at rest, pull the reusable Chucks bed pad out from underneath and wipe away the urine and the feces, and roll it up to wash in a few smooth swift movements. Flavio from Brazil, and his daily “doctor, doctor” jokes he saved from the internet to make the residents laugh, for his formal “Boa note senhorias”: Good even ladies, he lisped, every time when entering the break room.
What song or story would they say if someone gave them pen to write their lives? Who sings the anthem and stands or takes a knee for them? For it is for them the flag should wave.
They are the ones who live a step beside you every day my daughter. And what has changed, with any regime? The President with his funny hair and hate you hear. People worth little more than dung the powerful men sneer with their hedge funds and cops. Someone must clean out the toilet’s rim,
someone must step through manure and pick the crops. But if we are the manure of this earth, us droppings, us scat and guano who make the wheat reach for the rain, I will hurl this crappy poem like a zoo monkey hurls his crap at the cage.
For poop is something not to be dismissed or said with vulgar, but more a word like balloon, both with their Ooohh’s and then when we are done, we let out an ahhhh: a private performance, a mound for us to admire. Like when your younger sister had her first bowel movement in the toilet, she kept pointing, a huge grin on her face, standing there half-naked saying poop, poop, poop as if she had just built her own Pyramid. I tried to help her wipe, but then she ran around the house, a white flag of TP hanging from her butt cheeks, waving something so far from surrender.
Sean Thomas Dougherty’s most recent book is Death Prefers the Minor Keys from BOA Editions. He works as a caregiver and Medtech in Erie, PA.