The Cosmic Meaning of Flushing Flies

Marcel Duchamp, "Fountain"

Here’s a midweek humor break, a mock elegy by my favorite writer of light verse.

My father has a very tender heart, which means that it has devolved upon my mother to do the mouse killing in their house.  (She was also the disciplinarian when I was growing up.)  My father was even willing to let beavers live and let live until they built a dam over the filter in the lake that supplies them with their drinking water.  That being said, I don’t know how deep his qualms go about flushing a fly down a toilet bowl.  At the very least, the prospect makes him think twice and look for a larger message, as he does in the following poem:

The Fly Flushed Down the Toilet Bowl

By Scott Bates

That fly you flushed in the toilet bowl
Was alive as you or I
You may debate about his soul
But what a way to die

You watched him struggle watched him kick
You watched him fight to live
You could have beached him with a stick
Or strained him with a sieve

You might have scooped him with a jug
Or proffered him a pole
You might have cried Alas Poor Bug
Before that toilet bowl

But no You chose to do your worst
And dropped him down the drain
Take heed Beware Though he go first
And you behind remain

There’ll come a time without a stick
Without a saving board
Someone will watch you cry and kick
His hand upon the cord

Someone will watch you gasp for air
He’ll muse upon your soul
and yawn and turn to comb his hair
And drop you down the hole

In the reference to “hand upon the cord,” I note that my father is referring to a French toilet. Ask not for whom the toilet flushes–it flushes for thee.  The poem was published in Lupo’s Fables, Jump-Off Mountain Press (Sewanee, TN, 1983).


Note: Two other posts on insect poems, written after the famous incident two years ago where Barack Obama killed a fly while being interviewed on national television, can be found here and here.


Go here to subscribe to the weekly newsletter summarizing the week’s posts. Your e-mail address will be kept confidential.

This entry was posted in Bates (Scott) and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments are closed, but you can leave a trackback: Trackback URL.


  1. Susan
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 9:31 am | Permalink


  2. Posted April 29, 2011 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    I like this poem. I like the whole idea of your dad writing a poem about a fly to begin with.

    So, your mom is the mouse enforcer in the family. 🙂

    I couldn’t do it. I’m with your dad. Years ago, when I lived in another house, I discovered to my horror that I had a mouse or two running across the kitchen floor at night. Horror is not an exageration. I had never had this happen before in my entire life. The worst I ever faced in NYC growing up, was a cockroach or two or three.

    I like mice – outside in the fields. I like mice cartoons. I love Mickey. I like Royal Doulton mice figurines from Brambley Hedge. BUT – they scare me to death inside the house. I simply can’t explain it. Anyway, when mice showed up in the house, I had to have the next door neighbor come over and take care of them. And I cried everytime we found one of their little dead bodies. I can’t explain that either. It was an awful experience. I did do a very funny drawing of me and a friend mouse-hunting in the basement with a butterfly net. But that’s about the only laugh I got out of that whole experience.

    See? Your comment brought this all back. Ha!

  3. Robin Bates
    Posted May 1, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    “But I think mice are nice.” A poem I vaguely remember from my childhood. Of course, there’s been a whole explosion of children’s books with mice as the central characters. Stemming back, I guess, to Beatrix Potter or Kenneth Graham. Or Alice’s mouse.

  4. Sarah Hay
    Posted June 8, 2011 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

    I just saw your father on Monday — my parents, Ray and Isabelle Howe, were old Sewanee friends, and I adore Phoebe and Scott. He told me about your blog. What a delight!
    Sarah Hay, Sykesville, MD

  5. Robin Bates
    Posted June 9, 2011 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    My parents were tremendous fans of your parents, Sarah. They talked about them frequently to me.


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

  • Sign up for weekly newsletter

    Your email will not be shared or sold.
    * = required field

    powered by MailChimp!