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Cootchie

Cootchie, Miss Lulas servant, lies in marl


black into the white she went
below the surface of the coral-reef.
Her life was spent
in caring for Miss Lula, who is deaf,
eating her dinner off the kitchen sink
while Lula ate hers off the kitchen table.
The skies were egg-white for the funeral
and the faces sable.
Tonight the moonlight will alleviate
the melting of the pink wax roses
planted in tin cans filled with sand
placed in a line to mark Miss Lulas losses
but who will shout and make her understand?
Searching the land and sea for someone else,
the lighthouse will discover Cootchies grave
and dismiss all as trivial; the sea, desperate,
will proffer wave after wave.
(Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979)

Faustina, or Rock Roses


Tended by Faustina
yes in a crazy house
upon a crazy bed,
frail, of chipped enamel,
blooming above her head
into four vaguely roselike
flower-formations,

The visitor is embarrassed


not by pain nor age
nor even nakedness,
though perhaps by its reverse.
By and by the whisper
says, "Faustina, Faustina. . ."
Vengo, seora!

the white woman whispers to


herself. The floorboards sag
this way and that. The crooked
towel-covered table
bears a can of talcum
and five pasteboard boxes
of little pills,

On bare scraping feet


Faustina nears the bed.
She exhibits the talcum powder,
the pills, the cans of "cream,"
the white bowl of farina,
requesting for herself
a little coac;

most half-crystallized.
The visitor sits and watches
the dew glint on the screen
and in it two glow-worms
burning a drowned green.
Meanwhile the eighty-watt bulb
betrays us all,

complaining of, explaining,


the terms of her employment.
She bends above the other.
Her sinister kind face
presents a cruel black
coincident conundrum.
Oh, is it

discovering the concern


within our stupefaction;
lighting as well on heads
of tacks in the wallpaper,
on a paper wall-pocket,
violet-embossed, glistening
with mica flakes.

freedom at last, a lifelong


dream of time and silence,
dream of protection and rest?
Or is it the very worst,
the unimaginable nightmare
that never before dared last
more than a second?

It exposes the fine white hair,


the gown with the undershirt
showing at the neck,
the pallid palm-leaf fan
she holds but cannot wield,
her white disordered sheets
like wilted roses.

The acuteness of the question


forks instantly and starts
a snake-tongue flickering;
blurs further, blunts, softens,
separates, falls, our problems
becoming helplessly
proliferative.

Clutter of trophies,
chamber of bleached flags!
-Rags or ragged garments
hung on the chairs and hooks
each contributing its
shade of white, confusing
as undazzling.

There is no way of telling.


The eyes say only either.
At last the visitor rises,
awkwardly proffers her bunch
of rust-perforated roses
and wonders oh, whence come
all the petals.
(Elizabeth Bishop, 1911 - 1979)

In the Waiting Room


In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentists appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentists 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 Consuelos voice-not very loud or long.
I wasnt at all surprised;
even then I knew she was
a foolish, timid woman.
I might have been embarrassed,
but wasnt. 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 youll 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 couldnt 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 didnt 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 hadnt?
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, 1911 - 1979)

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