- Words in Air: The Complete Correspondence
between Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell edited by Thomas
Travisano and Saskia Hamilton
Faber, 875 pp, £40.00, November 2008.
each morning boatloads of hands
pushed off for granite
quarries on the islands,
white frame houses stuck
like oyster shells
on a hill of rock,
the raw little match-stick
mazes of a weir,
where the fish for bait were trapped.
where the bay leaves the sea
twice a day and takes
the herrings long rides,
enters or retreats
in a wall of brown foam
depends on if it meets
the bay coming in,
the bay not at home
Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them,
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,
still honoured in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.
of our back steps and breathe the rich air –
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail.
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.
two cops on horseback clop through the April rain
to check the parking meter violations –
their oilskins yellow as forsythia.
I have suffered from enormous thirst –
I swear it’s true – and by the age
of twenty or twenty-one I had begun
to drink, & drink – I can’t get enough
and, as you must have noticed,
I’m half-drunk now …
as black as night without you. I long to see
your face or hear your voice, and take your hand’
this morning, the letter you wrote me Saturday.
I thought my heart would break a thousand times,
but I would rather have read it a thousand times
than the detached unreal ones you wrote before.’
bound by your giant memory to one known longitude.
you still hang your words in air, ten years
unfinished, glued to your notice board, with gaps
or empties for the unimaginable phrase –
unerring Muse who makes the casual perfect?
I want my body to bump the pier
Neptune is calling his wayward daughter
Edna, come over here.
cruise off for the granite quarry on the island,
leaving dozens of bleak white frame houses stuck
like oyster shells on the hill of rock. Remember?
though I’m pretty worried myself. I’ve somehow got
into the worst situation I’ve ever
had to cope with. I can’t see the way out.’
in the spirit-level,
a creature divided;
and the compass needle
wobbling and wavering,
Freed – the broken
and the rainbow-bird
from the narrow bevel
of the empty mirror,
it feels like, gay!