Rocky Mountains

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The Moose

Elizabeth Bishop

From narrow provinces

of fish and bread and tea,

home of the long tides

where the bay leaves the sea

twice a day and takes

the herrings long rides,

where if the river

enters or retreats

in a wall of brown foam

depends on if it meets

the bay coming in,

the bay not at home;

where, silted red,

sometimes the sun sets

facing a red sea,

and others, veins the flats’

lavender, rich mud

in burning rivulets;

on red, gravelly roads,

down rows of sugar maples,

past clapboard farmhouses

and neat, clapboard churches,

bleached, ridged as clamshells,

past twin silver birches,

through late afternoon

a bus journeys west,

the windshield flashing pink,

pink glancing off of metal,

brushing the dented flank

of blue, beat-up enamel;

down hollows, up rises,

and waits, patient, while

a lone traveller gives

kisses and embraces

to seven relatives

and a collie supervises.

Goodbye to the elms,

to the farm, to the dog.

The bus starts. The light

grows richer; the fog,

shifting, salty, thin,

comes closing in.

Its cold, round crystals

form and slide and settle

in the white hens’ feathers,

in gray glazed cabbages,

on the cabbage roses

and lupins like apostles;

the sweet peas cling

to their wet white string

on the whitewashed fences;

bumblebees creep

inside 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 tablecloth

out after supper.

A pale flickering. Gone.

The Tantramar marshes

and the smell of salt hay.

An iron bridge trembles

and a loose plank rattles

but doesn’t give way.

On the left, a red light

swims through the dark:

a ship’s port lantern.

Two rubber boots show,

illuminated, solemn.

A dog gives one bark.

A woman climbs in

with two market bags,

brisk, freckled, elderly.

“A grand night. Yes, sir,

all the way to Boston.”

She regards us amicably.

Moonlight as we enter

the New Brunswick woods,

hairy, scratchy, splintery;

moonlight and mist

caught in them like lamb’s wool

on bushes in a pasture.

The passengers lie back.

Snores. Some long sighs.

A dreamy divagation

begins 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’ voices


talking, 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 lost

when the schooner foundered.

He took to drink. Yes.

She went to the bad.

When Amos began to pray

even in the store and

finally the family had

to put him away.

“Yes ...” that peculiar

affirmative. “Yes ...”

A sharp, indrawn breath,

half groan, half acceptance,

that means “Life’s like that.

We know it (also death).”

Talking the way they talked

in the old featherbed,

peacefully, on and on,

dim lamplight in the hall,

down in the kitchen, the dog

tucked in her shawl.

Now, it’s all right now

even to fall asleep

just as on all those nights.

—Suddenly the bus driver

stops with a jolt,

turns off his lights.

A moose has come out of

the impenetrable wood

and stands there, looms, rather,

in the middle of the road.

It approaches; it sniffs at

the 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 passengers

exclaim 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 sweet

sensation 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 seen

on the moonlit macadam;

then there’s a dim

smell of moose, an acrid

smell of gasoline.

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