To the Pay Toilet

A poem by Marge Piercy:

You strop my anger, especially
when I find you in restaurant or bar
and pay for the same liquid, coming and going.
In bus depots and airports and turnpike plazas
some woman is dragging in with three kids hung off her
shrieking their simple urgency like gulls.
She’s supposed to pay for each of them
and the privilege of not dirtying the corporate floor.
Sometimes a woman in a uniform’s on duty
black or whatever the prevailing bottom is
getting thirty cents an hour to make sure
no woman sneaks her full bladder under a door.
Most blatantly you shout that waste of resources
for the greatest good of the smallest number
where twenty pay toilets line up glinty clean
and at the end of the row one free toilet
oozes from under its crooked door,
while a row of weary women carrying packages and babies
wait and wait and wait to do
what only the dead find unnecessary.

This poem invokes some kind of suburban dread that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it vaguely reminds me of a line from Ben Gibbard about Los Angeles: “I drank from the faucet and I kept my receipt for when they weigh me on the way out; here nothing is free”; the “wait and wait and wait” part is really depressing me just now, again for some unclassifiable reason.

I think David Foster Wallace could’ve written this poem, and I mean that to be the utmost of compliments.

Check out Piercy’s website.


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