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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

First Encounter XL: "On the Ice" by Thomas R. Moore

I grew up in the 1940s and my father ran a construction company in Worcester. When I was eleven and twelve I played Peewee hockey at Webster Square Arena, just down the street from where the original Bishop house stood. One team sponsor, and one of my father’s competitors, was the contractor J.W. Bishop, so the Bishop name was familiar early on if still unconnected in my eleven-year-old self to the poet.

When I started teaching at Wachusett Regional High School outside Worcester, I always included two Bishop poems in my sophomore honors syllabus: “The Fish” and “In the Waiting Room.” I would ask each sophomore to memorize at least one poem. Jill Lepore, now a history professor at Harvard, told me she still can recite Stanley Kunitz’s “The Layers.” And I remember how Mathew McCabe quivered when he flawlessly recited Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy” at fifteen. One student, whose name I cannot recall, chose “The Fish.” The “brown skin in strips/like ancient wallpaper” and “rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!” have been indelibly embedded in my memory since that moment.

I have worn eyeglasses since I was five. To have my eyes tested my mother would drive me to Worcester to Dr. Whitney’s office in the Slater Building on Main Street. Of course there were National Geographics in the waiting room. After my first reading of “In the Waiting Room” I have always associated my five-year-old self with seven-year-old Elizabeth waiting for her Aunt Consuelo. I can still hear the clicks the lenses made in the wooden box as Dr. Whitney raised and lowered his arm asking “Is this better or worse?” And I remember the cold slushy streets leading to the Slater Building past J.C. Freeman the optician on the corner, Ware Pratt the clothing store, and Barnard, Summer, and Putnam across the street.

I went on to earn graduate degrees in American Literature and taught English for forty years, but I have always prized those early connections to Bishop on the ice at the Webster Square Arena and at the eye doctor’s in Worcester in 1946. When my wife and I spent a week at the Great Village house in April 2014, I felt a unique intimacy with her from my Worcester childhood.

Thomas R. Moore
Belfast, Maine
November 5, 2015


After Tom’s visit to the Elizabeth Bishop House, he wrote the poem below, which was published in The Dalhousie Review, Autumn 2014 issue.


The house was oxen-rolled downtown
before its present fame, before Miss Bishop

led Nelly past the brook. Tin-roofed,
it sits on the corner across from

the village church. Starlings knock
the cornice trim askew. A crow hops

through blue scilla disturbing April
snow. Rhubarb nubs show.

High tides and spring rivers can
urge Cobequid Bay beyond the berm,

but today the meadows unfold
to the aboiteau. Logging rigs rev,

downshifting for the turn, and upstairs
the scream echoes in the papered room.

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