"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Where the Old Filling Station Was

My but it's clean!
Streamlined, its signs truncated
like the elm next door – ATM -
("atmosphere?" you might’ve speculated) --
but at least there's COFFEE left,
white weave on an oval of Delft blue weft,
its first syllable looming
soft as in "CA-sa Mariana",
Walcott soft, softer even than rumours
relayed in Lowell's pseudo-southern drawl,
softer certainly than the cot somebody left
against the wall in your old bedroom,
where the skylight's secured from the wind
with a pair of snub-nosed scissors
left by some roomer put to rest at last here.

Signs of the times left about just everywhere.
The yellow diamond for CAUTION you'd swear
from a distance was meant to say YIELD
to agnostics: black arrow picking out the plaque
on Saint James's Church, or maybe the church itself,
with its dentil moulding, and still somewhat hopefully spired.
Caddy-corner from here and off in the shade
the Great Village & District Volunteer Fire Brigade
668-2314. But perhaps you'd as soon Myles left
you alone? Is he the letter carrier, too, on foot since the last
of three loved autos went? Or has he been put out
to pasture? Was all this heaven-sent?
Anyhow, last Sunday morning he played the Lord God
in The Potter and the Clay -- an experiment: a mod-
ern service, "not something we normally do," said the pastor.
Coming here is like coming to your senses, only faster:
sight striated by the parlour window's chequerboard
of bubbly, wavy glass, with certain panes too perfect, flat,
clear; sounds of central heating but lately acquired.
"Feel free to make an entry" on the cover of the house journal
somebody left on a shelf, this house once hauled
from Scrabble Hill and left now across from --

My but it's clean!
Like the view of a sky from the kitchen window
or E. M. Forster's Machine --
WILSONS GAS STOPS -- a windrow of tire-tracked snow
where somebody left a portasign of that No Name yellow
repeated evidence has proved you can't not look at.
It was cold when poor Tony was left without his jacket
to set its black block letters, one by one.
Fetch from its battered tin bucket the squeegee
left there to do the windshield of Mrs. Layton's car,
or later (so, so, so much later), leaving all that aside,
stare out over Minas Basin and the dikes the French
left behind, their outskirts defeated yellow,
dim against the bright sky of a high window.

Great Village – Halifax
19 February – 9 March 2005

[from John A. Barnstead, And Other Poems, (Bedford: Peregrination Press, 2007), pp. 99-100.]


  1. This is lovely! - And it makes me more eager than ever to see Great Village. It seems to be a place where the beneficent ghosts and shadows of the past mingle gently and impalpably with those of our century, like a sort of transparent palimpsest. It also reinforces my inexplicable sense that I must have seen GV when visiting Nova Scotia in my youth fifty years ago or so. Thanks for posting it!

  2. Time and space (or their originally undifferentiated whole -- the 'pacha' as the Incas called it) do seem to be brought together in Great Village especially: somehow one senses the filling station Bishop saw in Brazil (the source of the sad, two-noted tune of the untempered clogs whose sounds evoke the well-regulated ones of another country), the Esso Station that has been replaced by Wilsons Gas Stops (no apostrophe possible, one supposes), -- and yet another, unnamed one: Robert Lowell's only use of the phrase 'filling station', which is to be found in a review he did of Sylvia Plath, and which is the source of the "defeated yellow, / dim against the bright sky of a high window" of the end of my poem.

    Thank you very much for your comment. I hope you will be able to come to Great Village soon. -- JAB