Explore O:JA&L’s Buttonhook Press offerings on Amazon.
Subscribe to the O:JA&L YouTube channel.
Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.

Alden Cullinane

The Porcelain God Is Female

Outhouse Girl, a painted door by an unknown folk artist. Image created and published by runran.

Anything that takes bodily fluids into her swirling womb of cold water must be female right? Shocking it’s called “the John” and not some female name like the Lola or the Veronica you can buy in Home Depot. But, you know, men love to names things after themselves. Especially things as novel as the toilet that will follow us into eternity. I mean, the porcelain goddess knows all, sees all, a truth-teller. The toilet is the goddess that watches over her from birth to death and all the ugly in-between. Like the woods and trees keep the forest’s secrets, the toilet keeps theirs. Is there a more universal goddess than the toilet? There watching from the beginning of life to the end. She is there for our violence, our fear, happiness, hatred, our mistakes, and our illnesses and joys. She sees all our fluids, tears, blood, urine, vomit, spit, and waste. Women seek her shelter and her answers. It’s where women sit after sex to wait for the semen to gravity slide down so they can wipe it away before infection can set in or pull their knees up to hold it, with hopes of growing new life. They sit on the edge of her waiting for two pink lines or no lines, like a tarot card being turned over by a fortune teller, only what the toilet sees and tells will never lie. Where vigilance is constant for a rust brown or bright pink smear on the cottony whiteness signaling a UTI that will cause haziness, confusion and in pain. Full of antibiotics that will destroy a female gut for months on end, the toilet sees that too. It sees women in the beginning teetering their young over the cold ceramic edge in hopes to teach them to be independent with their own bodily fluids, bribing tinkles with M&M’s and hoping one day to have one less chore to do. Except eventually parents age and the teetering begins again with the old and elderly above that same cold rim. Bracing skinny arms and shrunken shoulders with our own, trying not to look the indignity right in the face.

She is a passageway to relief, to cleansing. She eats and swallows the memories and objects we want to forget. Women embrace her in the best and worst of times like vomiting in penance for a night of drinking too much. We seek her solace in the throes of morning or all-day sickness. She mirrors back to us our blood which can be either soul crushing or ultimate relief. Some women have even lost our young to the toilet, a big white unintended burial chamber, a chalice of pain and weakness, a plumbing vessel that can break a human heart. We send our beloved pets to a watery grave. Surround her as a family during a funeral for goldfish and dead mice. We seek the toilet to hide, to be alone with all our fluids. Stolen moments just sitting scrolling iPhones, away from little people, needy husbands, relatives or too many party guests. Sometimes with a cigarette and an open window, or a vodka martini and a notebook. We sit and read real books with paper pages and the door locked, hoping the toilet is the one sacred place little hands will be too terrified to knock. We sacrifice our hair to her, cut our bangs, our man’s hair, our child’s hair, our leg hair. Hair that has been shaved off before cancer can ravage it. It’s where we flee to at a party after unwanted advances, our one escape to avoid conversations we don’t want to have. We bring friends, we encircle her in sisterhood, laughter, and tears. We fish out of her waters sacrifices of brand-new iPhones, children’s toys or remote controls. She is where we go to sit and cry at the end of our marriages flushing tissues full of tears leaving no evidence behind. When someone we love has died and we just sit in stillness, no fluids left to give. We light candles on her altar to cover our own stench.

We lay next to her with our hot cheeks and bare head on the cool tile of the bathroom floor after chemo, waiting for the nausea to back off. A toilet can stop a woman’s heart in the best and worst ways. She takes away all our unwanted fluids, regrets and decisions and then sends them away with an audible flourish. With the push of a finger, she flushes the slate clean to help you to forget, to absolve you. She will sit silently and wait for our next need to be taken care of. She never judges, but occasionally she will show us our own reflection in her waters.

About the writer:
Alden Cullinane is a poet, writer and artist from Boston, Massachusetts. Her artwork, poetry, and short stories have been published in Stylus, Plexus, The Boston Globe, and The Graduate Review Volumes VI & VII, Chapter House, and recently Red Wolf Periodical. She has forthcoming short stories and poetry being published in 2023 by independent lit mags. Finally free of her degree program, she is currently working in academia while figuring out her mid-life crisis. Besides writing she loves being a mom to her two boys and dog and is hoping to someday teach writing at a college level or escape society and live in the woods. Either is fine.

Image: Outhouse Girl, a painted door by an unknown folk artist. Image created and published by runran (contemporary). Photo of outhouse door, wallpaper inset, etched with razor blade and coloured with pastel. 2008. By free license.

OJAL Art Incorporated, publishing since 2017 as OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters (O:JA&L) and its imprint Buttonhook Press, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporation supporting writers and artists worldwide.

Become an O:JA&L Member through Patreon.