The Little Review (littlereview) wrote,
The Little Review

Poem for Saturday and West Seattle

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 I 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.


Saturday was beach day. After breakfast Paul's parents met us at the hotel and we drove to Paul's brother Jon and his wife Brooke's apartment in West Seattle, which took us around the hills on another perfect sunny day. After meeting our new nephews/cousins Holden and Noah, we drove to the beach at Alki, where we had lunch at Sunfish Seafood (fish and chips, salmon), then walked through a boardwalk art fair to the rocky shoreline where the tide was coming in. We could look across the water and see the Space Needle, downtown and far in the distance the outline of Mount Baker before clouds obscured it. The kids played in the water and built sandcastles while the adults took turns wandering through the stalls of artwork and getting iced frappacinos and chai at Starbucks -- we were told we could not pass through Seattle without at least one visit to a Starbucks.

Late in the afternoon we went back to Brooke and Jon's and sat around talking until our boys began to get restless, so we took them back to the hotel to the pool. The sky opened up for about three minutes as we drove -- the only hint of the rumored Seattle rain since we arrived -- and afterward a rainbow lit up the city as we drove away from the shore. We had to visit a food store to grab supplies for dinner and I was delighted to find both decaf Stash's licorice tea and Sun Dog hemp oil lotion, which I haven't seen in a store since Bar Harbor two summers ago. As I have said in every city with a waterfront that I have ever visited, I would move to Seattle in a minute if I could live on Puget Sound.

Tomorrow I am hoping to hang out with chrismm and to meet ariestess whom I have known online for years and years!

Baby on the beach!
Tags: trip west 03

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