Sunday, December 30, 2007

In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited and read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.
And then I looked at the cover:
the yellow margins, the date.
Suddenly, from inside,
came an oh! of pain
--Aunt Consuelo's voice--
not very loud or long.
I wasn't at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasn't. What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt,
I--we--were falling, falling,
our eyes glued to the cover
of the National Geographic,
February, 1918.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world.
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an I,
you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them.
Why should you be one, too?
I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
I gave a sidelong glance
--I couldn't look any higher--
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
What similarities
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts
held us all together
or made us all just one?
How--I didn't know any
word for it--how "unlikely". . .
How had I come to be here,
like them, and overhear
a cry of pain that could have
got loud and worse but hadn't?

The waiting room was bright
and too hot. It was sliding
beneath a big black wave,
another, and another.

Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Moose by Elizabeth Bishop

For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provinces

of fish and bread and tea,

home of the long tides

where the bay leaves the sea

twice a day and takes

the herrings long rides,

where if the river

enters or retreats

in a wall of brown foam

depends on if it meets

the bay coming in,

the bay not at home;

where, silted red,

sometimes the sun sets

facing a red sea,

and others, veins the flats'

lavender, rich mud

in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,

down rows of sugar maples,

past clapboard farmhouses

and neat, clapboard churches,

bleached, ridged as clamshells,

past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon

a bus journeys west,

the windshield flashing pink,

pink glancing off of metal,

brushing the dented flank

of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,

and waits, patient, while

a lone traveller gives

kisses and embraces

to seven relatives

and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,

to the farm, to the dog.

The bus starts. The light

grows richer; the fog,

shifting, salty, thin,

comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals

form and slide and settle

in the white hens' feathers,

in gray glazed cabbages,

on the cabbage roses

and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling

to their wet white string

on the whitewashed fences;

bumblebees creep

inside the foxgloves,

and evening commences.

One stop at Bass River.

Then the Economies

Lower, Middle, Upper;

Five Islands, Five Houses,

where a woman shakes a tablecloth

out after supper.

A pale flickering. Gone.

The Tantramar marshes

and the smell of salt hay.

An iron bridge trembles

and a loose plank rattles

but doesn't give way.

On the left, a red light

swims through the dark:

a ship's port lantern.

Two rubber boots show,

illuminated, solemn.

A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in

with two market bags,

brisk, freckled, elderly.

"A grand night. Yes, sir,

all the way to Boston."

She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter

the New Brunswick woods,

hairy, scratchy, splintery;

moonlight and mist

caught in them like lamb's wool

on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.

Snores. Some long sighs.

A dreamy divagation

begins in the night,

a gentle, auditory,

slow hallucination. . . .

In the creakings and noises,

an old conversation

--not concerning us,

but recognizable, somewhere,

back in the bus:

Grandparents' voices


talking, in Eternity:

names being mentioned,

things cleared up finally;

what he said, what she said,

who got pensioned;

deaths, deaths and sicknesses;

the year he remarried;

the year (something) happened.

She died in childbirth.

That was the son lost

when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.

She went to the bad.

When Amos began to pray

even in the store and

finally the family had

to put him away.

"Yes . . ." that peculiar

affirmative. "Yes . . ."

A sharp, indrawn breath,

half groan, half acceptance,

that means "Life's like that.

We know it (also death)."

Talking the way they talked

in the old featherbed,

peacefully, on and on,

dim lamplight in the hall,

down in the kitchen, the dog

tucked in her shawl.

Now, it's all right now

even to fall asleep

just as on all those nights.

--Suddenly the bus driver

stops with a jolt,

turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of

the impenetrable wood

and stands there, looms, rather,

in the middle of the road.

It approaches; it sniffs at

the bus's hot hood.

Towering, antlerless,

high as a church,

homely as a house

(or, safe as houses).

A man's voice assures us

"Perfectly harmless. . . ."

Some of the passengers

exclaim in whispers,

childishly, softly,

"Sure are big creatures."

"It's awful plain."

"Look! It's a she!"

Taking her time,

she looks the bus over,

grand, otherworldly.

Why, why do we feel

(we all feel) this sweet

sensation of joy?

"Curious creatures,"

says our quiet driver,

rolling his r's.

"Look at that, would you."

Then he shifts gears.

For a moment longer,

by craning backward,

the moose can be seen

on the moonlit macadam;

then there's a dim

smell of moose, an acrid

smell of gasoline.

From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel. See

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Old Maids by Sandra Cisneros

My cousins and I,
we don't marry.
We're too old
by Mexican standards.

And the relatives
have long suspected
we can't anymore
in white.

My cousins and I,
we're all old
maids at thirty.

Who won't dress children,
and never saints--
though we undress them.

The aunts,
they've given up on us.
No longer nudge--You're next.

What happened in your childhood?
What left you all mean teens?
Who hurt you, honey?

But we've studied
marriages too long--

Aunt Ariadne,
Tia Vashti,
Comadre Penelope,
querida Malintzin,
Senora Pumpkin Shell--

lessons that served us well.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Coal by Audre Lorde

is the total black, being spoken
from the earth's inside.
There are many kinds of open
how a diamond comes into a knot of flame
how sound comes into a word, colored
by who pays what for speaking.

Some words are open like a diamond
on glass windows
singing out within the crash of sun
Then there are words like stapled wagers
in a perforated book - buy and sign and tear apart -
and come whatever wills all chances
the stub remains
an ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge.
Some words live in my throat
breeding like adders. Other know sun
seeking like gypsies over my tongue
to explode through my lips
like young sparrows bursting from shell.
Some words
bedevil me

Love is word, another kind of open.
As the diamond comes into a knot of flame
I am Black because I come from the earth's inside
Now take my word for jewel in the open light.