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
uninterruptedly
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. Used with permission.

Poems by This Author

At the Fishhouses by Elizabeth Bishop
Although it is a cold evening,
Filling Station by Elizabeth Bishop
Oh, but it is dirty!
In the Waiting Room by Elizabeth Bishop
In Worcester, Massachusetts,
Little Exercise by Elizabeth Bishop
Think of the storm roaming the sky uneasily
One Art by Elizabeth Bishop
The art of losing isn't hard to master;
Over 2,000 Illustrations and a Complete Concordance by Elizabeth Bishop
Suicide of a Moderate Dictator by Elizabeth Bishop
This is a day when truths will out, perhaps
The Armadillo by Elizabeth Bishop
This is the time of year
The Fish by Elizabeth Bishop
I caught a tremendous fish
Visits to St. Elizabeths by Elizabeth Bishop
This is the house of Bedlam.


Further Reading

Poems About Animals and Pets
27,000 Miles
by Albert Goldbarth
from The Kitten and Falling Leaves
by William Wordsworth
I Am! Said the Lamb [excerpt]
by Theodore Roethke
Jubilate Agno, Fragment B, [For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry]
by Christopher Smart
A Crocodile
by Thomas Lovell Beddoes
A List of Praises
by Anne Porter
A Noiseless Patient Spider
by Walt Whitman
Animals and Art
by Ron Padgett
At Bay
by Carl Phillips
At the Zoo
by William Makepeace Thackeray
Bats
by Paisley Rekdal
Darwin's Finches
by Deborah Digges
Eletelephony
by Laura Elizabeth Richards
Epitaph to a Dog
by George Gordon Byron
Flamingo Dreams
by William Saphier
Freedom in Ohio
by Jennifer Chang
From the Canal
by Michael Dickman
Gila
by Rigoberto González
Goldfish Are Ordinary
by Stacie Cassarino
Grasshopper
by Ron Padgett
Hawk
by Daniel Waters
Ho Ho Ho Caribou
by Joseph Ceravolo
horse vision
by Julian T. Brolaski
How Doth the Little Busy Bee
by Isaac Watts
Journey aka OR7
by Gerard Malanga
Leda and the Swan
by W. B. Yeats
Maine Seafood Company
by Matthew Dickman
Me and the Otters
by Dorothea Lasky
Mole
by Wyatt Prunty
Nonsense Alphabet
by Edward Lear
On Viewing the Skull and Bones of a Wolf
by Alexander Posey
Orkney Interior
by Ian Hamilton Finlay
Prayer from a Mouse
by Sarah Messer
Psalm
by George Oppen
Quiet the Dog, Tether the Pony
by Marilyn Chin
Skunk Hour
by Robert Lowell
Testy Pony
by Zachary Schomburg
The Armadillo
by Elizabeth Bishop
The Barnacle and the Gray Whale
by Cecilia Llompart
The Bear
by Galway Kinnell
The Caterpillar
by Robert Graves
The Crocodile
by Lewis Carroll
The Dusk of Horses
by James Dickey
The Eagle
by Lord Alfred Tennyson
The Fly
by William Blake
The Future is an Animal
by Tina Chang
The Heavy Bear Who Goes With Me
by Delmore Schwartz
The Lorca Variations (XXVIII)
"For Turtles"

by Jerome Rothenberg
The Paper Nautilus
by Marianne Moore
The Parakeets
by Alberto Blanco
The Purple Cow
by Gelett Burgess
The Return
by Frances Richey
The Snail
by William Cowper
The Tyger
by William Blake
The Windhover
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Thing
by Rae Armantrout
To a Mouse,
by Robert Burns
Toad
by Diane Seuss
Turn of a Year
by Joan Houlihan
Wild Gratitude
by Edward Hirsch
Wilderness
by Carl Sandburg
Woodchucks
by Maxine Kumin