Saturday, August 8, 2009

"Filling Station"

For your reading pleasure today, a poem by one of my all-time favorite poets, Elizabeth Bishop. Ms Bishop’s eye for detail is always impeccable & she’s invariably able to register subtle emotional shifts with her tone. Those who’d like to read more about “Filling Station” can go here to the University of Illinois website, where there are several short essays on the poem.

In the meantime, enjoy!

Filling Station

Oh, but it is dirty!
—this little filling station,
oil-soaked, oil-permeated
to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency.
Be careful with that match!

Father wears a dirty,
oil-soaked monkey suit
that cuts him under the arms,
and several quick and saucy
and greasy sons assist him
(it’s a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty.

Do they live in the station?
It has a cement porch
behind the pumps, and on it
a set of crushed and grease-
impregnated wickerwork;
on the wicker sofa
a dirty dog, quite comfy.

Some comic books provide
the only note of color—
of certain color. They lie
upon a big dim doily
draping a taboret
(part of the set), beside
a big hirsute begonia.

Why the extraneous plant?
Why the taboret?
Why, oh why, the doily?
(Embroidered in daisy stitch
with marguerites, I think,
and heavy with gray crochet.)

Somebody embroidered the doily.
Somebody waters the plant,
or oils it, maybe. Somebody
arranges the rows of cans
so that they softly say:
to high-strung automobiles.
Somebody loves us all.

Elizabeth Bishop


  1. I don't think anyone calls them "filling stations" anymore, do you?

    Love the word portrait. Beautiful.

  2. That is a fine poem John. I have never read Elizabeth Bishop before and therefore I will be following up on your suggestions for further reading. I look forward to your weekly poem, it's a great way to widen my poetical knowledge.

  3. great verse - i, too, have not read bishop so it was especially a rare treat - and a poem on "filling stations" - who would have thought? i have many memories of my family's road trips when i was a child and the many many stops at "filling stations" - where we always went inside to get a candy bar, and stopped by the front door to pick a cold drink from a big red drink cooler with the maze-like steel runners inside through which you slid your drink to get it out of the machine - oh, and most of them also had a little meat/cheese market in the back where you could get your heart's desire in hogshead cheese, bologna and huge chunks of cheddar cheese - and don't forget to grab a big loaf of white bread and crackers to go with the bologna and cheese! well, i digress - but your poem sent me straight back to 1950 something on route 66!!!

  4. Hi Reya & Alan & Jenean:

    Reya: That's true about "filling stations." My dad always called them that. Glad you liked this Bishop poem.

    Alan: I think you'll really like Ms Bishop's poetry. There's probably a far amount online. I also have a couple of hers on much earlier RFBanjo installments.

    Jenean: Travel was different in those days. I too remember the days before the omnipresence of interstates, tho I was admittedly quite young. Some of my earliest memories involved the construction of I-91 fairly close to our house. In fact, my folks sold some property for the highway.

  5. ...and I love Elizabeth Bishop. Thanks for reminding me of the reason.

  6. Hi Karen:

    Yes, she was a tremendous poet!

  7. Filling station. Heh. They used to be called "service stations" too, before that became so obviously oxymoronic.

    I look forward to reading those essays - thanks for the guidance.

  8. Hi Sandra:

    I'm up & more or less a part of the world today! I think Bishop is a poet you'd like a lot--you may already know her work, but she's someone I'd strongly recommend.


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