Shit happens

There are days when life seems to be full of so much shit.

Leo is walking through the park when a big dog does a shit, simply drops shit on the grass plop plop like small sandbags falling off the end of a conveyor belt. The dog holds its gymnast’s pose, haunches quivering, eyes fixed resolutely on the middle distance – is this relief or pain, happiness or fear? – and then relaxes, moving smoothly into stride once more. Leo admires how quickly the dog loses interest in its own shit. There’s no need to take a final look, to check the size, shape and overall consistency. It’s enough just to let it go.

In the morning, Leo wakes and goes out into the world once more. As usual, there is plenty of shit in the back lane. White, black and brown varieties predominate here – hard, brittle, unstable – all in various stages of transmutation. Indeed, there is so much shit here it is sometimes difficult to keep track of it all. Despite the fact that Leo often passes the same shit several times, none of it seems at all familiar to him; every day he encounters the same old shit as though for the first time.

Today Leo notices a shiny black curlicue of shit shaped like a piece of liquorice. At his approach, a small band of startled flies leaps off it like guilty schoolboys. Is this shit a new arrival, he wonders, the result of an early morning walk in the amber light of the newborn day? The shit appears fresh to him but then appearances are often deceptive; a shower of rain or a heavy dew can give even week-old shit a clean, malevolent lustre which glistens like glaze on a bun.

Leo walks over to the High Street where there is more shit waiting for him on the pavement. This pile has been streaked and smeared into an abstract expression by somebody’s heel. What is the message here? An angry gesture, a dirty protest against the gods by somebody who can’t help putting their foot in it again and again. Of course, the pile itself is telling him to stop looking at it in terms of shit and to appreciate its form and texture instead; the impetuous, fragile swirl of earthy pigment, its unique combination of pastel shades plastered against a brutal surface. Pity me, says the shit, for I am of this world too.

Leo frowns thoughtfully. Already the thinner edges of the shit are turning lighter than its main body. Soon the shit will dry out completely and flake away, blown by the warm westerlies and washed by the summer rains until nothing remains to remind the world of its brief existence. Where does all the dead shit go?

Leo walks on, ready to take on any shit he encounters in his wanderings. Shit is an unavoidable presence in his life now – lingering at every corner, lurking in the laneways – and his journey is an extended confrontation with it. He observes where it appears, maps its location and concentration, takes evasive action when necessary. After years of practice, Leo can manage all these functions simultaneously without even thinking about what he’s doing. Watching out for shit is second nature now – he couldn’t stop even if he tried – although sometimes, in an idle moment, he can’t help wondering how many precious seconds of his life have been wasted looking out for shit.

Most of the time, Leo catches sight of the shit out of the corner of his eye, that is unless somebody shouts ‘Look out!’ and, in a moment of instinctive panic, he skips, jumps, lifts his feet higher and higher in order to escape the shit that may be lying in wait right under his nose. For a moment then, he is unable to pinpoint the shit and he holds his foot in mid-air, like a cartoon character stepping off a cliff, until he knows exactly where it is safe to tread. And sometimes he never sees the shit at all but keeps on walking, blindly trusting in his own inviolable purity.

Sometimes Leo is fooled by shit which isn’t shit at all, pseudo-shit which looks like real shit but which, on closer investigation, turns out to be something else altogether, a shit-like substance of unknown origin masquerading as shit. Leo views such piles with fear and distrust. Why would anything voluntarily choose to look like shit, he asks, and if it isn’t shit, then what the hell is it?

Leo understands that shit is very impressionable. Any shit left out in the open quickly takes on whatever shape or form is imposed on it. Leo sees shit that has been run over by buses, trucks, cars and bicycles, each pile moulded randomly but precisely into a zigzag relief. Rainwater collects in the grooves and hollows, tiny ponds no bigger than the tip of a baby’s finger. Outside the bakery, there is a huge mottled shit like a herb sausage turned inside out. Half the shit bears the imprint of somebody’s sole – a cheap trainer or loafer – while the other half remains in its virgin state, untouched, awaiting redevelopment or possibly preserved forever in its pristine condition.

There is fresh shit cascading down the steps of the bank, pale and soft like a delicately aerated dessert. Despite its lightweight appearance, this is obviously some powerful shit. Leo admires the way in which it has managed to resolve its own space and presence, establishing a potent sphere of influence that controls everything within its domain. I can imagine where this shit came from and what gave birth to it, reasons Leo, but now that it is here, its absolute sense of being suspends all laws of cause and effect. This shit wasn’t dumped; it created itself by voluntarily casting off its animal dimension in a triumphant act of auto-determination.

Leo feels invigorated by such shit. Shit like this suggests a new way of living, a reality which he can control, acting purposefully and without distraction. And why not? After all, if a shit is capable of such a thing, why not a human being? Why can’t a man be more like a shit? It is an attractive proposition. Imagine how much easier life would be if everything was like shit. No confusion, no uncertainty, just straightforward, honest, down-to-earth shit-like living. People today often complained there was too much shit in the world but it wasn’t true. If anything, there wasn’t enough shit to go around. What the world needs now is more shit, better shit, user-friendly shit, so that everybody can rest assured that when they need shit, they can have shit. Shit is beautiful, a god-send, a role model for society and the ideal spiritual guide for these troubled times.

Leo walks along, entranced by his vision of shit, no longer looking where he is heading but merely going wherever the shit leads him. On the pavement outside the pub, he kicks at a piece of powdery white shit and watches it explode off the toe of his boot in all directions. Shit fills the abyss of my existence, he whispers, shit is constant and yet endlessly mutable, tainted but pure. Shit is Good. Shit is Truth. Shit is Life. Holy Shit.

But if that really were the case then why does shit have such a bad name? After all, everybody hates shit. They cross the road to avoid it, they blast it with jets of water and bury it in the ground. They make up stories about shit and diseases in order to scare their children away from it. They send it off to treatment plants. They absolutely will not stop until they know that all shit has been eradicated from this earth. Why do they do this? Leo is troubled. Could it be that he is wrong about the shit? No, he decides, firmly thrusting such doubts aside, it’s not shit that is the problem – it’s people. ‘Society teaches you to hate shit,’ he says out loud. ‘You’re the problem, you’re all wrong and you don’t even know it… we can all… nothing deserves to be… not like shit…’

Leo is shouting now and the people on the street are starting to slide around him, taking care not to get too close. He walks on, still mumbling to himself, occasionally bursting out loud, ‘Shit! Shit! You don’t care about shit!’

In the middle of a busy street – people pushing by, cars straining and squealing, the constant swelling and thinning of the crowd – Leo feels a darkness closing in, everything crushing him, gravity pushing down so hard the only place he can go is flat on the pavement, put his face on the stone and feel the cold, cold dirt, press his body into the ground and smell the earth, taste the shit that we walk on everyday.

This is where I belong, in this fellowship of shit, says Leo, making himself comfortable. No-one dares touch me here, I’m free.

And so he is, in a sense, although lying there prone on the pavement, the world stepping over and around him, he also feels the weight of who he is, what he is, like never before.

When he next looks up, Leo finds himself back in the park, stretched out on the grass. It’s late afternoon now and all the dogs have come out to play. They’re chasing each other across the grassy slopes, merrily running around in circles and leaping through the air to catch balls, sticks, frisbees and other dogs. Leo feels quieter inside now as if the weight he was carrying has been cast aside. He sits on the grass and feels a vicarious pleasure watching the dogs, the way they snuffle around each other, delicately extending the tips of their noses in order to make contact.

From time to time, a dog breaks away from the pack and steadies itself for the arrival of a shit. These are always very solemn moments. Nothing is allowed to disturb the dog’s concentration. People look away or talk amongst themselves, the atmosphere becomes tense with anticipation. Everybody respects the right of the shit to enter the world without any interference or hindrance. And when it is over and the shit has safely arrived, the people are joyous and celebratory, calling to their dogs, stroking and patting them for a job well done.

Leo sits on a park bench and observes the scene contentedly, sharing in the warm glow of evening communion. Even as he watches, men and women are moving in to take care of the shit and transport it to a safer location. With utmost delicacy, they pick it up and wrap it tightly in protective plastic. Then, displaying great tenderness, they carry it off to a place where the shit can rest undisturbed. Leo is overcome with tearful happiness. This is the way it ought to be, he thinks, this is a world in which shit is acknowledged and rightfully respected for what it is. No more back alley jobs or lying slumped on the High Street; nobody need fear shit any more nor be ashamed of the fact that shit happens.

Leo lies back on the bench and closes his eyes. Gradually his mind empties and becomes still, his breathing slows and his legs – so weary from all that searching – go limp. Nobody disturbs Leo. Nobody gives a shit. Some time during the night, Leo opens his eyes and sees the spray of stars overhead, wafting towards him like air freshener from an aerosol. In the morning, the dogs will return to play in the park and find Leo still lying on the bench, eyes wide open, staring straight up into the clear blue sky.

Posted in Poetry.

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