The Moose

Elizabeth Bishop

For Grace Bulmer Bowers

From narrow provincesof fish and bread and tea,home of the long tideswhere the bay leaves the seatwice a day and takesthe herrings long rides,where if the riverenters or retreatsin a wall of brown foamdepends on if it meetsthe bay coming in,the bay not at home;where, silted red,sometimes the sun setsfacing a red sea,and others, veins the flats’lavender, rich mudin burning rivulets;on red, gravelly roads,down rows of sugar maples,past clapboard farmhousesand neat, clapboard churches,bleached, ridged as clamshells,past twin silver birches,through late afternoona bus journeys west,the windshield flashing pink,pink glancing off of metal,brushing the dented flankof blue, beat-up enamel;down hollows, up rises,and waits, patient, whilea lone traveller giveskisses and embracesto seven relativesand a collie supervises.Goodbye to the elms,to the farm, to the dog.The bus starts. The lightgrows richer; the fog,shifting, salty, thin,comes closing in.Its cold, round crystalsform and slide and settlein the white hens’ feathers,in gray glazed cabbages,on the cabbage rosesand lupins like apostles;the sweet peas clingto their wet white stringon the whitewashed fences;bumblebees creepinside 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 tableclothout after supper.A pale flickering. Gone.The Tantramar marshesand the smell of salt hay.An iron bridge tremblesand a loose plank rattlesbut doesn’t give way.On the left, a red lightswims through the dark:a ship’s port lantern.Two rubber boots show,illuminated, solemn.A dog gives one bark.A woman climbs inwith two market bags,brisk, freckled, elderly.“A grand night. Yes, sir,all the way to Boston.”She regards us amicably.Moonlight as we enterthe New Brunswick woods,hairy, scratchy, splintery;moonlight and mistcaught in them like lamb’s woolon bushes in a pasture.The passengers lie back.Snores. Some long sighs.A dreamy divagationbegins 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’ voicesuninterruptedlytalking, 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 lostwhen the schooner foundered.He took to drink. Yes.She went to the bad.When Amos began to prayeven in the store andfinally the family hadto put him away.“Yes ...” that peculiaraffirmative. “Yes ...”A sharp, indrawn breath,half groan, half acceptance,that means “Life’s like that.We know it (also death).”Talking the way they talkedin the old featherbed,peacefully, on and on,dim lamplight in the hall,down in the kitchen, the dogtucked in her shawl.Now, it’s all right noweven to fall asleepjust as on all those nights.—Suddenly the bus driverstops with a jolt,turns off his lights.A moose has come out ofthe impenetrable woodand stands there, looms, rather,in the middle of the road.It approaches; it sniffs atthe 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 passengersexclaim 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 sweetsensation 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 seenon the moonlit macadam;then there’s a dimsmell of moose, an acridsmell of gasoline.

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Color photo of Elizabeth Bishop
Photo:
Alice Helen Methfessel

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) received the Pulitzer Prize in 1956 for her collection Poems: North & South—A Cold Spring, the National Book Award for The Complete Poems (1969), the National Book Critics’ Circle Award in 1976, and many other distinctions and accolades for her work. She was born in Worcester, Massachusetts. She traveled widely as an adult, living for years in France and then Brazil, before returning to the United States.

“Bishop was not just a good poet but a great one. Bishop accomplished a magical illumination of the ordinary, forcing us to examine our surroundings with the freshness of a friendly alien.”
—David Lehman, Newsweek

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