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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop
Elizabeth Bishop was born on February 8, 1911, in Worcester, Massachusetts. She received the 1956 Pulitzer Prize for her collection, Poems: North & South/A Cold Spring. ...
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FURTHER READING
Poems About Childhood
"Out, Out—"
by Robert Frost
Don't Let Me Be Lonely [There was a time]
by Claudia Rankine
A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball
by Christopher Merrill
A child said, What is the grass?
by Walt Whitman
Another Country
by Ryan Teitman
anyone lived in a pretty how town
by E. E. Cummings
Babylon
by Robert Graves
Because I cannot remember my first kiss
by Roger Bonair-Agard
Birches
by Robert Frost
Block City
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Blur
by Andrew Hudgins
Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
deer & salt block
by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Early Memory
by January Gill O'Neil
Fern Hill
by Dylan Thomas
Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About
by Judith Viorst
For Some Slight I Can't Quite Recall
by Ross Gay
From the Lives of My Friends
by Michael Dickman
Giraffes
by Kimiko Hahn
Going Down Hill on a Bicycle
by Henry Charles Beeching
Jabberwocky
by Lewis Carroll
Lullaby in Blue
by Betsy Sholl
My Aunts
by Meghan O'Rourke
My Bright Aluminum Tumblers
by Michael Ryan
My Childhood
by Matthew Zapruder
Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
by William Wordsworth
Pirate Story
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Playgrounds
by Laurence Alma-Tadema
Pledge
by Elizabeth Powell
Poem for You
by David Shapiro
Recuerdo
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Solar system bedsheets
by Sarah Vap
The Children's Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Gaffe
by C. K. Williams
The Lamb
by William Blake
The Portrait
by Stanley Kunitz
The Retreat
by Henry Vaughan
The Swing
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Tower
by W. B. Yeats
They Call This
by C. K. Williams
To My Best Friend's Big Sister
by Ross Gay
Untitled [The child thought it strange]
by Richard Meier
Untitled [You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old]
by Rudyard Kipling
We Are Seven
by William Wordsworth
Poems about Patience
Aubade: Some Peaches, After Storm
by Carl Phillips
Bright Star
by John Keats
How to Make a Game of Waiting
by Jennifer K. Sweeney
It Happens Like This
by James Tate
Patience
by Kay Ryan
Peace
by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Pigeons at Dawn
by Charles Simic
She Is Overheard Singing
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
so you want to be a writer?
by Charles Bukowski
That Everything's Inevitable
by Katy Lederer
Related Prose
"Visibility is Poor": Elizabeth Bishop's Obsessive Imagery and Mystical Unsaying
by Katie Ford
Elizabeth Bishop's 'New' Poems
by Lloyd Schwartz
Groundbreaking Book: Geography III by Elizabeth Bishop (1977)
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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.






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.
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