By Fleda Brown
At the lake, too, itís always been pretty much the same. I dearly love the outhouse, with its high window so that the other world is nothing but the tops of trees. I love the rich smell of accumulation, mixed with earth, everything changing back into itself. But if someone knocks at the outhouse door, even if they politely drift down the hill pretending not to wait, Iím trapped by time. No longer is time open-ended, no longer are all things possible. I have an assignmentóto finish my business, to be a member of the give-and-take of human society.
Imagine, Grandfather built the outhouse with three holes and a dial on the outside of the door that points toóor used to before the letters fadedóWomen or Men, as if several would like to use it at the same time!
This is not a problem of my body. Out there is the out there: the angry and crying parents, the prostitution rings, the former husbands. In here is in here. Thomas Merton said that as soon as youíre alone, youíre with God. Something there is that does like a wall, that resolutely stacks up the stones. I acknowledge the evils: the old-stone-savage rancor of patriotism, the slamming door of privilege, the imperious altar screens of religion. But at home in my own bathroom, Iím Rodinís Thinker under the glorious sun of the heat lamp, bending over Doonesbury, Dilbert, Boondocks, the glassy ease of Metropolitan Home, the Tao Te Ching, with its speechless Chinese calligraphy edging the pages like laceóthe world at last manageable size, sparsely furnished with chrome toilet paper holder, carefully folded green towels, butcher-block countertop. I balance on the edge of the seat, between feeling and action, between intimacy and the revelation of nature.
When my friend Joan went to Russia several years ago, she reported that in the public bathrooms, people squatted over open holes in the floor. All over the world people crouch in gullies, in plain view, nothing to wipe with. Understand, Iím not shy with my body. Iím not shy about letting my bare breasts flop around in the locker room at the gym. I can walk and talk as if out there were my world. As if the world behind the bathroom door is only a product of a mind embarrassingly helpless to control the very creation that supports it. I donít need quiet out there, I need quiet in my soul. I need time and space, the brief illusion of eternity. To sit on the cliff of the toilet, disenchantment only a door away. No one wants eternity for an eternity. Just to feel it, to touch its walls with some regularity is enough. Also, lots of times when I am at a party, I stand with my wine glass among the quite interesting people and their interesting stories, and my soul sits down inside the small cloister of my body, watching the door.
Fleda Brownís essays have appeared in the Iowa Review, The Journal, Arts & Letters, Prairie Schooner, and other journals. Her sixth collection of poems, Reunion, won the Felix Pollak Prize and will be published by University of Wisconsin Press in 2007.
Collage Art by Art Nahpro