“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.


On Frying Fish
By George Eyre Masters
Good recipe too.

It is the middle of March in Maine. Snowed yesterday, raining today. The afternoon sky is the color of dirty socks. Waiting for a telephone call from a woman I do push-ups. I make cornbread. I want to thank her for the two pounds of San Francisco coffee that arrived yesterday. More push-ups. I drink a cup of her coffee and try to read. I try to write. The house is quiet. I go out to the kitchen and make a pot of rice and peas. She usually calls twice a day. It’s been two days since I heard from her. I’m not leaving any more messages on her machine. The last five were just to hear her voice. I know what’s missing.

First thing I need is good fish. The half mile walk up Ocean Avenue is salt air, and seagulls. I pass a big grey hotel closed for the winter. Across the street, fishing boats at anchor strain against the inbound tide, their bows pointing to the mouth of the Kennebunk River and the open ocean beyond.

Inside the fish store three men wearing bloody aprons fillet cod with blades you could shave with. Wet red hands, tough and sure, smooth the way they work. They, themselves haven’t shaved in a few days. The old chocolate lab that belongs to the store sleeps on his blanket near the wall. When I go to him and kneel he opens his one good eye. I stroke his sweet broad head; he gives me a tail flap of recognition.

I walk home with a pound and a third of cod so fresh it doesn’t smell. No messages on my answering machine. I build a fire in the living room, watch how the flames work into the logs and warm my hands.

In the kitchen I make the preparations. Skillet, flour, bread crumbs, cornmeal, cornstarch, seasonings, eggs, milk, Tabasco sauce, cooking oil, rice and peas. Outside it’s beginning to get dark. I open a bottle of red wine.

When frying fish it’s best to be mostly sober. I put on a Chieftains album. Irish music is how I’m feeling. I take a drink of wine and give a long look at the photograph on the window sill of Jack, my dog. Jack died last June. I buried his ashes in the flower bed outside my bedroom. Jack loved fried fish. Don Williams is singing “Wild Mountain Thyme”. The song starts at my feet and travels straight up the middle.

I cut the cod into serving sized pieces. For oil I use one part olive to three parts canola. I break a couple eggs in a bowl, add some milk and four or five dashes of Tabasco- more for flavor than heat and then beat it with a fork.

In a separate bowl I mix the flour, corn meal, bread crumbs and a bit of corn starch. The corn starch will help make the fried fish crispy. For seasonings I add sea salt, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, dry dill weed, oregano, dry mustard and a pinch of chili powder. I glance up and see that Jack is watching all this

John Prine and the Chieftains are doing “The Girl I Left Behind”. I dip the pieces of fish into the egg mix and then dredge them in the seasoned flour. Waiting for the damned phone to ring, I hope she is safe and wish to hell she’d call.

I smell the oil getting hot. I do a test by lowering a corner of a piece of fish into the oil. It starts to bubble and fry, I’m good to go. Two pieces at a time and very carefully. Too much at once and you will lower the temperature and screw up the process. Most careful when I turn the fish. During this part I never leave the stove, I don’t dance around. Involved in the process I have stopped listening for the telephone. Lost in the primitive satisfaction of a wood fire, of fish frying and the haunting Irish music behind it all, I pause. With the fish fried and the stove off, “Danny Boy” comes to me achingly clear.

Time to eat, I say aloud. I put a couple small logs on the hungry fire and treasure its warmth and light. In the kitchen I pour another glass of wine. Lifting Jack’s picture off the window sill, I bring him with me into the living room. My co-pilot won’t allow me to fly alone. On this March night Jack and I share the fire. I eat, he watches and together we wait for the phone to ring.