Potty Court: An Oasis

Design by Claire Soohoo

The picnic table I sit at now is still damp after two days of sun-filled skies and has proven itself a friendly spot for mosquitoes—one or two or three have refused to stop buzzing and darting around me despite my swats. Perhaps the sun hasn’t poked through the overcast skies for long enough. Perhaps the table’s position, deep in the stone corner of a sub-courtyard, prevents it from drying in the daylight. Perhaps the rain of this first semester so overwhelmed and oversaturated the wood that it still struggles to dry. This table sits in Potty Court, between entryways B and C of Trumbull. I refer to this space as a sub-courtyard due in part to its secondary position to the more substantial, hammock-adorned and dining-hall-adjacent Main Court, but also due to its liminality. Unlike most courtyards on campus, Potty Court does not have grass. Instead, a central pathway stretches between two stone patios so distinct they could be classified as their own courts. Both have ample bike racks; in the southern one lives only my picnic table, while the northern one has three splintering wood tables, the accompanying slightly-broken chairs, a few benches, and some refuse bins. 

The pathway bridging these two sections has its own distinct charm, almost existing as a third mirco-court. A rusting metal bird of prey sits to one side, facing a wooden bench I cannot imagine sitting on. They both break up the wide, brick beds which line the pathway and overflow with American wisteria and English ivy. The plants’ tendrils climb their iron-trellis captors and hang their leaves just barely into the patios in an apparent effort to disturb their brickish peace. Without these pops of green, the brickish peace, the air of heavy claustrophobia would only thicken. 

These walls are what draw me here. I can still hear the horns and sirens and yellings of the street, only they are so muted by the stone they morph together, lose their identity, and become simply white noise that overshadows the mosquitos. The three walls around my table are Trumbull suites, reaching only two or three stories above; the fourth wall, which I stare across at each time my thoughts wander from these words, is Sterling Library, that impenetrable mass of stone and knowledge named for the philanthropic lawyer of robber barons. Its legacy looms, fourteen floors packed with the thoughts and words of past students and writers whose only remaining aliveness sits upon the shelves inside and wafts down, ghostlike and kind, into this Potty Court. 

I glance away from Sterling, knowing the thoughts and words will remain. Looking up, I see the statue of a man on a toilet, which gives the court its name, sitting apical on the pointed roof two stories above entryway B. Far above lives the chimneys and jutting spires of Saybrook, a college so legacy-wrought its emblem is an amalgam of the arms of a viscount and a baron of seventeenth-century England. 

Beneath all this, directly above entryway B, is a mob of fools and demons carved into the stone. They cackle with cracked teeth, carrying some unhappy, misfortuned man to some undetermined location. I imagine it’s uncomfortable to be moved without agency, jostled like a cart over cobblestone. But there isn’t so much terror in his eyes as a frightful awe, a confused sort of excitement.

I pity the man, of course, but also understand his look. It’s the one my parents saw on move-in day. It’s what my peers saw at the First-Year Picnic, and what I saw in many of them. It’s what I felt tremble beneath my eyes each day of my first two weeks as I heaved open iron gates and stumbled through arches and courtyards, uncertainty spreading across my over-sparking neurons like vines over iron-trellises. I could not navigate the grandeur, the overwhelm, of campus nor its legacy, nor my potential place in either. 

In the second week of classes, I found myself with an awkward hour of time between a lecture and my first section for FILM 150. It had been a tired day, and I needed a quiet space in which to simmer and read. Wandering into Trumbull, a college I’d yet to explore, the few chairs of Main Court were already taken. Hoping to appear confident to the upperclassmen (whom I now realize didn’t notice me), I kept walking and turned into Potty Court. The muted silence overwhelmed me at first, so I sat at the picnic table and gaped up at Sterling. Then, beneath the dim and decadent iron lamps, I gaped up at Saybrook. The peace of this awe-filled claustrophobia felt nice, somehow.

I now come to the Potty Court to sit, to breathe, and often to write. It’s an oasis of sorts, an open-air shrine to quiet, a brief valley of stone-built quaintness within the mountains of grandeur which surround it. While working and eating and living at Yale often jostles my sense of peace, the Gothic stones of this strange courtyard embrace me, force me to pause, and do what that man in the arms of the demons and fools cannot: close my eyes.

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