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In the Waiting Room -- Elizabeth Bishop

Guest poem sent in by Teresa D. Gunnell
(Poem #734) In the Waiting Room
 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.
-- Elizabeth Bishop
  From The Complete Poems 1927-1979 by Elizabeth Bishop, published by
  Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen

I love Elizabeth Bishop... to me this poem reminds me very much of being a
child.  You remember detail so clearly, yet the subtlety of what goes on
around you is often lost.  Sometimes things seem so incredible, or
overwhelming... or so simple and easy.  I just can't comment much about
Bishop - she's too profound all by herself.



We've run one Bishop poem: poem #639

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