"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop
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Monday, July 29, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 119: Eely Slickness (!?)

Bishop’s next letter to her aunt, dated Rio, 23 March [1962], just over a month after the previous epistle, is a short, hand-written scrawl that accompanied a clipping from the 9 March 1962 issue of Time. 
(This cover shows writer Tennessee Williams.) 
(Page one of the article in question. Click image to enlarge.)
The clipping was the article “Poetry in English 1945‒62,” in which Bishop was featured, along with a host of other contemporary poets, almost all male (Adrianne Rich gets a passing reference). Reading this piece now makes one cringe because of its sexist tone and tenor.
(Page two of the article in question.)
In this context, it is surprising that Bishop got a section of her own, especially since her work is described as having an “eely slickness” that is “sometimes repellent”! Her work has “little human warmth, no specific temperature.”*
(Page three of the article in question.)
Perhaps what the writer objected to was the fact that she did not have what he identified elsewhere as Rich’s “feminine charm … coupled with a feminine shrewdness.” Well, one must laugh out loud reading that observation, in light of what Rich became for the women’s movement. The critic did concede that Bishop had “a gift of imagery” and “a woman’s eye as keen as any since Virginia Woolf’s,” but how that makes her work “eely” and cold seems is puzzling and perhaps something of a contradiction. Even in 1962, Bishop was an enigma.

Bishop began her letter wondering “Maybe you didn’t see this …?” Sending it to her aunt wasn’t “very modest of me!” But considering the lukewarm, even negative critique of her, it is a wonder Bishop wanted to send it at all. Still, there she was in Time, about as mainstream as you could get in 1962. Perhaps she was included because of her work on the Time-Life Brazil book, the subject of which comprised most of the rest of the letter.

She noted first that she hadn’t “heard from you for a long time now.” Grace was in Florida with her sister-in-law and niece, so perhaps she was busy. Bishop thought “maybe a letter got lost?” She couldn’t remember the date of Grace’s last letter and she couldn’t “find it,” but remembered it was “some time ago.” In any case, she assured her aunt: “I answered it.” She had “heard from Mary last week,” who herself was “just leaving for Florida, too.” Clearly, a reunion between the sisters was in the works.
Then Bishop asked if Grace had “got the BRAZIL book?” This tiresome project was still plaguing Bishop and she was finding it hard to let go of the trauma. She observed again to Grace that “It is so full of LIFE.” And reiterated that there was “so little left of what I wrote.” Even though “I hate to look at it,” she still wanted her aunts to see it. She clarified that she was “NOT responsible for any titles, chapter-headings, what it says under the pictures, etc.” As a result, she said it was “full of mistakes, although I did my best.”

As she wound down this scribbled note, she finally explained that “my typewriter is being repaired again.” She concluded by asking Grace to give her “love to Aunt Mabel [and] Hazel” and declaring in a way that is familiar to all Bishop fans: “Write me!” (one can’t help but think of her late poem “One Art” in this emphasized admonition). Closing, “with lots of love.”

The last section of the Time article was about Robert Lowell. Below his photo (with its caption of “Vigor, not melody.”), Bishop wrote: “This is my old friend.” She noted that “he & his wife … are coming to visit me … the month of June.” (A fateful visit for them all, especially Lowell himself.)

Bishop’s next letter to Grace was barely two weeks later and announced the arrival of a new member of the family. The next post will convey this advent.


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*Note: The image of Bishop used by Time in this photo was taken at Samambaia. She sent this same image to Grace, signed. Grace framed and hung it in her home. It ended up in Phyllis Sutherland's possession and is now at Acadia University Archives.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Penny Lighthall exhibit moves to Halifax

At the Elizabeth Bishop Society of Nova Scotia AGM on 22 June 2019, we opened an exhibit by Truro textile artist Penny Lighthall in our ECHOES OF EB gallery in St. James Church.
(Penny standing in front of her exhibit, 22 June 2019.
Photo by Susan Kerslake.)
“From Pen to Hook: Hand-Hooked Rugs Inspired by the Poetry of Elizabeth Bishop” consists of eight delightful pieces focused on Bishop’s Nova Scotia poems.
(A few images of Penny's rugs. Photos by Sandra Barry.)
("Cape Breton")
("Manners")
("First Death in Nova Scotia")
("Poem")
In September, Penny will again exhibit these and a dozen more Bishop-inspired rugs at the Central Library in Halifax, N.S. This exhibit opens the evening of 9 September. All are welcome.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 118: Lots of water

The second half of Bishop’s 20 February 1962 letter was focused on water in various forms. Before getting to this subject, Bishop asked her aunt if she had “got my last note with the check in it?” That is, the cost of living bonus she’d got from The New Yorker, which she had signed over to Grace to help with her Florida trip. Bishop wondered if her aunt was “there” yet and, if so, how she got there, “by train?”

Bishop had a direct connection to and interest in Florida, and in good Maritimer fashion, she then asked about the weather: “Are you having storms there the way we are?” Bishop had been writing to her aunt about the severe, at times record breaking, weather in Rio and the problems it had been causing; she wondered if Floridians were experiencing the same. She noted that she saw “by this morning’s paper that maybe Glenn will at last take off today so Florida must be clearing up, at least.”

The Glenn she refers to is, of course, astronaut John Glenn, who did indeed take off on that very day and became the first American to orbit the earth on the Friendship 7 mission.* 
The weather had definitely not cleared up in Rio where “the storms” were “terrific.” In her decade living there, Bishop had “never seen anything like them.” The bad weather, especially the rain, had been going on long enough that “we are awfully sick of being wet.” This kind of weather was more than uncomfortable for Bishop, it exacerbated her asthma, which she had “been having … all the time … because of the mildew.”

Not only was water falling in great quantity outside. Bishop continued her water tale with what was falling inside. She told Grace that she and Lota had returned “to Rio on Sunday late P M — broiling hot — and found the plumbers who are completely re-piping the place had left everything looking as though a bomb had hit us.” Bishop’s word for this discovery: “mess.” The only place they could “get cold showers” was in “the maid’s bathroom,” a facility that had been designed by some “devil” because it was basically a “little hole,” a feature that was common enough across the board, prompting Bishop to declare: “poor maids.” The maids had no choice but to use such cramped spaces, but Bishop reported that “yesterday we went to a friend’s down the street to bathe, make pee-pee, etc.” Not only was the plumbing disrupted, they had to do this external toilette “through howling storms all day, too!”

The plumbing inconvenience was but the start of a process to “overhaul” the apartment. Bishop noted, “Next comes the wiring.” One problem for them was timing, for they commenced this necessary work as “prices are soaring,” making her wonder “how we can ever finish it, even paint it, I don’t see.”

The apartment was not without running water, exactly. Bishop told her aunt that she “was awakened by the rain coming in on my face.” She explained that the apartment was on “the top floor and there are awful leaks.” She had complained about this issue before. The leaks were “the management’s responsibility, but they won’t do anything about it.” Scribbled vertically on the left side of the page, to reflect her observation, Bishop wrote: “The bedroom wall is running with water! All the paint peeled off.”

One thinks of “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” “water, water everywhere…”

Bishop dried off her face and hands and turned to a more interesting use of water. She reported, “Yesterday at the worst of the storm we saw the winning sail-boat — 80 feet — arrive from Buenos Aires.” This boat, Stromvogel,** won “the annual race from B.A. to Rio,” a 1200-mile route. Bishop declared this boat “beautiful” and noted “how I’d like to be on” it or one of the other boats in the regatta. The second-place boat “was the U S one from Annapolis.”
Wet and asthmatic as she was, Bishop closed her letter with “I must get to work.” Her final words were for and about her beloved aunt (“How are you”?), her hope that when she went “up next week-end” to the country, she would “get a letter” from Grace. In addition to Grace, Bishop sent her “love to Aunt Mabel and Hazel.”

I can’t help but observe here that while academic scholars and biographers focus on the “work” Bishop mentions at the end of this letter, very often Bishop was much more focused on daily life. And when she does report working to Grace, the focus is often about the practical and logistical side of it. It is not wise to ignore all this quotidian matter, which filled most of Bishop’s days, weeks, months, years. Her poetry and prose were conceived and created amid the press and push of tasks, travels and troubles. And Bishop often wasn’t able to write the formal stuff, blocked or busy or both at any given time; but she wrote a mind-boggling number of letters, and one can see in them all the poetic force that ended up in the poems and stories she did complete.

Bishop’s next letter to her aunt is a brief hand-written note accompanying an article that came out in Time, written and sent a little over a month later, the subject for the next post.


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*Note: Mid-July 2019 marks the fiftith anniversary of the first person to set foot on the moon, astronaut Neil Armstrong (along with Buzz Aldrin). The moon landing was the culmination of years of efforts, which began with Glenn’s orbit.

**Note: Bishop did not know or report the name of this vessel, but the New York Times reported the win which happened on 19 February.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 117: History of Great Village

Bishop’s next letter to Grace is dated 20 February 1962, two weeks after her last. It was prompted by a gift Bishop received barely a week after she’d written on 6 February: “the book about G V,” that is the History of Great Village by the Women’s Institute. It was sort of hot off the press, being published in 1961. 
By the time she wrote, Bishop had read it from cover to cover and “enjoyed it very much … and I am finding it very useful …. you’ll be surprised!” To prove this assertion, she immediately noted that she was “writing a poem about the Mill Pond, among other things.” This pond belonged to the Peppard family and was located behind the Great Village School. It was large enough that over the decades it supplied both a lumber and grist mill with water. By Bishop’s time, those businesses were gone, but still vivid in the minds and memories of all the villagers.

It appears that Bishop didn’t get very far with her “Mill Pond” poem. Her papers at Vassar do not contain even a draft of such a piece, at least as far as I know.

Bishop thanked her aunt “very much,” and added, “you couldn’t have found a present I’d like better” (it being a birthday present).

What followed were some of her direct comments about items found in this quaint but informative account of the founding and prospering of the village. As she read through it, she found her maternal family name written mostly as “Boomer.” Bishop had definite views on this choice: “I do wish everyone would go back to spelling the name BULMER.” For Bishop, ever keen about proper nouns, this spelling bespoke “a good English name.” Her feelings about the more popular spelling were categorical: “I HATE BOOMER.” For her, this spelling “could be Dutch or German.” It is quite curious that she expressed such a negative view, thinking the common spelling “very ugly-looking,” when she had chosen this exact spelling for the character, Edwin Boomer, in her fable-like story “The Sea & Its Shore,” written in 1937.

Bishop really did read this local history closely and carefully because she found even the most passing references to her ancestors. First, her great-grandfather Robert Hutchinson, who was included in a list of “Master Mariners.” Bishop expressed disappointment that the name of his “bark or whatever it was” was not listed, but then she thought that perhaps it was because he was not a “ship-owner.” Indeed, Robert Hutchinson never owned a vessel, but he worked on a number of ships out of the Port of Londonderry, and probably reached the rank of captain. But rarely did captains own the vessels they sailed. 
The next ancestor was her great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Black Hutchinson (later Gourley), wife and widow of Robert Hutchinson, whose name she found mentioned in an item about the merchant (and fellow Yorkshire immigrant) L.C. Layton, paying said “╩╗Mrs Hutchinson’ to make ‘2 coats at 40₡ each.” Bishop “bet that was your grandmother, wasn’t it?”
She was fascinated by these “odds and ends,” which she kept listing. Grace would surely have known the contents perfectly, having likely supplied information directly to the compilers, so Bishop’s descriptions are perhaps to show Grace how delighted she was with this present.

Bishop noted that she had “found the list of relatives who became school teachers and nurses,” noting it was “quite impressive!”
Having just gone through her own kind of hell with the Time-Life book about Brazil, Bishop was aware of production matters and noted, “as you said — it’s too bad whoever did it couldn’t have done it just a little better.” The History of Great Village is typical of community histories of the era, an amateur production (or in Bishop’s parlance, “primitive,” which was not a pejorative term for her, but indicative of a “home-made” quality she admired). Still, the writing is ordinary, the scholarship haphazard, the layout/design rudimentary. All this said, such a history is extremely valuable now as the generation that knew first-hand much of what it contains is gone.*

Bishop thought she knew who might have been a key person in its creation: “did ELSEE write most of it, or who?” That is, Elsee Layton, daughter of L.C. Layton, the fellow who paid Mrs. Hutchinson for the coats. Elsee and Grace were good friends and one of those teachers on the list Bishop found.

One item, in particular, intrigued Bishop: “did you see the item about the old ‘Literary Club’.” The Christophian Literary Society was a fixture in the village for several decades just before and after the turn of the twentieth century. Bishop’s mother and aunts all belonged to it at one time or another. I have written about it and one of its best-known members, Alexander Louis Fraser, elsewhere on this blog. 
Reading about the society’s wide-ranging interests, Bishop wondered “how many people in G V ever read Browning or Tennyson these days.” Another section “about ‘ARTISTS’,” also caught her eye, because it included a note about Great-uncle George W. Hutchinson. Indeed, Great Village during her childhood (the 1910s) was a highly cultured place and helped seed Bishop’s love of poetry and painting. But she concluded, “as everyone says — and it happens everywhere — culture is dying out completely in small places.” This culture was being replaced by new technology, so that “no one knows anything any more except what they see on T V, alas.” One wonders what Bishop would think of today when the argument can be made that no one knows anything any more except what they see on the internet! 
Bishop knew she could not reverse this tide, but she did “wish they’d stick to the old spellings of things, and the old names, at least.” Besides hating “Boomer,” she also declared in a scribbled addendum at the end of this paragraph, a parenthetical afterthought, “(I do HATE ‘GLENHOLME’ — UGH!)” Glenholme was the current name of what was originally Folly Village, which even I agree is a much more interesting name.

Reading the History of Great Village made her yearn to return, “I’d love to get back for a trip,” but what with life so busy, she wondered “when and how on earth” she could. Then one final note, “I see your house,” that is, her grandparents’ home, “is insulated with birch bark — that’s nice!”**
   
Bishop’s final paragraph of this letter shifted to quite another matter, the woes of trying to upgrade the plumbing at the apartment in Rio, which will comprise the next post.


************************

*Note: The Great Village Historical Society reprinted the History of Great Village some years ago and added supplementary information, including a brief biography about Elizabeth Bishop herself.

**Note: During some recent work at the EB House, some of this birch bark insulation was found.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Artist talk at ViewPoint Gallery

On Sunday afternoon, 14 July, photographers Roxanne Smith and Kathleen Flanagan gave an artists’ talk about their exhibit “Glimpses of Forgotten Memories” at ViewPoint Gallery in Halifax, N.S. EBSNS supporter Susan Kerslake attended and sent some delightful images of the occasion, which was well attended. I share a few of these photos with you. Thanks, Susan.
(Roxanne and Kathleen.)





(A chair for Elizabeth Bishop.)

Sunday, July 14, 2019

This afternoon at ViewPoint Gallery in Halifax, photographers Roxanne Smith and Kathleen Flanagan will be giving a talk about their exhibit "Glimpses of Forgotten Memories," photographs of the Elizabeth Bishop House. This exhibit has received a lovely review by arts reporter Elissa Barnard. Click here to read it.
This exhibit will be at the gallery until 28 July. Check it out if you are in Halifax.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 116: Coming up clover

Bishop concluded her 6 February 1962 letter to Grace with three short paragraphs, winding things down quickly. She knew Grace was on the move again, heading to Florida to spend time with her sister-in-law Mabel and niece Hazel. Bishop was “glad you can get away,” at least she “hope[d] you did.” February in Nova Scotia was quite different than February in Rio and Bishop knew that “the cold takes too much of your energy, I think.” She had experienced some cold in New York in December and knew about expending energy “just trying to keep warm and going.” Bishop also knew Grace was dealing with another type of cold, too – that is, she had been sick. Even as far apart as they were, and as long away from each other, Bishop’s concern for her aunt never wavered.

She noted that her 6 February epistle was “a reply to your letter,” which Grace had mailed in Montreal (while visiting her sister Mary) “on the 26th,” and which had contained a “birthday card.” Grace, too, rarely missed these occasions to connect, making a particular effort to do so even when she was away from home.

Bishop thanked her aunt for the remembrance, which she “liked especially,” because it had “clover on it.” There was no clover in Brazil and Bishop noted wistfully, “one misses it.” Seeing this representation of something deeply familiar from her childhood, she observed, “I’d like to chew a nice big pink head of clover right now.” If you have ever done such a thing, you know there is an especially sweet taste to it. My italics and bold indicates that Bishop wrote the word in, over top of something she had mistakenly typed.
(Dutch clover in bloom, one of the types Bishop
would have remembered. It is the blooms one chews.)
The day’s mail not only brought Grace’s birthday greetings, but also Bishop’s “annual bonus from the N[ew] Yorker — something mysterious called the ‘Cost of Living Adjustment’.” Bishop explained that the amount of this unexpected adjustment depended “on how much you’ve published there during the year.” Bishop reported that she had received a small windfall: “$153.21.” But rather than keep it, she chose instead to sign it over to Grace and send “it on to you to help out in Florida — or help with your trip back.” Certainly a generous gesture.

This brief letter was quickly coming to a close. The final few observations concerned family, responses to updates Grace had sent along with the birthday card. Bishop once again expressed her concern for “Phyllis and Ernest,” how “sorry” she was for “these awful things [that] have to happen,” meaning their struggles with dear little Miriam, who was nearly nine months old by this point. In the face of such challenges, Bishop urged, “let us keep our chins up and go down fighting,” which she noted was her “motto!” Bishop was not only trying to encourage her aunt and cousin, but also herself. These words were perhaps prescient as Lota’s work with the park began to take a serious toll on both of them in the next couple of years, both women struggling to keep their chins up and in fighting spirit.

Bishop knew Grace’s indomitable spirit, so she felt this motto was one her aunt would practice herself. Knowing that her aunt was spending time in Florida, she concluded with “Remember me to Aunt Mabel and Hazel.” Such a visit would generate “lots of family gossip,” which Bishop urged her aunt to write about next time, noting that she was “always interested” in such news. In good Maritimer fashion, and in light of the rain pouring endlessly outside her Rio window, Bishop hoped “you have good weather there,” and signed off with “Lots of love.”

Only two weeks passed before Bishop’s next letter to Grace, which was prompted by a special gift from her aunt.



Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 115: Customs and cooks

Bishop’s third 1962 letter to Grace is dated 6 February, just two days before her 51st birthday. She was in Rio where “it pours and pours and pours.” The sunshine she had mentioned returning in her previous letter didn’t stay around long. Without any preamble, Bishop launched into a tale of woe, declaring that as a result of all the rain “we not only have leaks in our roof up in the country but now we have leaks in Rio.” Lota’s apartment in Leme was “on the top floor and in the last stages of decrepitude.” All their efforts to “get [the leaks] fixed” had brought “no result.” Consequently, “plastic buckets dot the house and the apartment as well.” Bishop hoped that “a plumber is supposed to come today to start a few repairs” at the apartment, but clearly, she was dubious it would happen.

Then a shift of focus: “Also —” brought in another tale of frustration about their “trunks,” shipped from the US when they returned in December from the New York sojourn. Bishop reported that they were “still in the customs.” Because of Lota’s position and connections, they always had help dealing with this agency, but from Bishop’s perspective, it seemed that “the more pull we have the harder a time” they had with customs. In this instance, “we have a Captain from the army, who salutes us,” helping them. This person was provided by Carlos Lacerda, “Lota’s friend.” But he was proving no grease to the wheel. Bishop noted, “we just can’t get things out.” Her frustration was evident, “and I’m getting pretty desperate.” She had packed “a lot of my papers and my real check-book, etc.,” in the trunk because “they all weigh so much.” 
(Carlos Lacerda. Wikipedia.)
Bishop remembered that when they last returned from abroad, “Lota’s Uncle was Foreign Minister and sent somebody important to help.” He, too, was no grease to the wheel. Indeed, he seemed to be a problem because “we ended up paying more than if we hadn’t had any help.” Bishop explained to a probably puzzled Grace (why would they not do better with such important personages intervening for them?): “The customs here are an independent organization, it seems.” Clearly, she concluded, “no one can do anything about it,” and especially no one of importance. All this experience confirmed for Bishop that the “next time” she would “forgo all ‘big shot’ help or ‘pull’ and just do it myself.”

The gap between this paragraph and the next seems to hold a big exhale and sigh, at least one can imagine it so.

She then turned to another subject which was only marginally less frustrating by noting that “Elizabeth [Naudin] is staying up in Teresopolis.” Bishop hoped that all the rain wasn’t making that time “too lonely” for her cousin. But perhaps the presence of “her sister-in-law” mitigated the dreariness. The frustration came with the report that these women “were supposed to come for lunch” “two Saturdays ago,” which did not happen because “it rained so hard” that the drive and visit had to be canceled. Bishop weakly said she would “try again next week-end.” Part of the issue was that they were both, “Lota particularly,” working “so hard here in Rio,” which meant “that when we get up there for two days … we like to take it easy.” That aim “rarely” happened “because there are always people to entertain, it seems.” And the responsibility for the food fell to Bishop because “that cook [Maria] can’t COOK.”
(Rio de Janeiro, 1962. Elenara Stein Leitao.)
Bishop reminded her aunt once again that they were “trying to get another ‘couple’ — but can’t seem to.” As a result, Bishop ended “up cooking all day Saturday usually.” She declared that she didn’t mind such domestic work “when I don’t have other things to do.” At that moment, she was “up to my neck in work — and away behind.” One of the things she was doing was planning to mail copies “of the BRAZIL book,” which was “supposed to appear the end of this month.” (N.B. This “supposed” was the third so far in the opening two paragraphs of this letter, an indication of how uncertain many things were at that moment.)

She told Grace that she would “change the address … on your copy” and send it to Florida. Bishop was still trying to keep track of her elderly aunt, was gallivanting again.

This relatively short epistle wound down quickly after this litany of “supposed” events. The next post will take up the final few matters.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Glimpses of Forgotten Memories exhibit

On 4 July 2019, ViewPoint Gallery in Halifax, N.S., hosted the opening of Glimpses of Forgotten Memories: The Elizabeth Bishop House, photographs by Halifax photographers Kathleen Flanagan and Roxanne Smith. Roxanne kindly has sent along several photos of the opening and I want to remind everyone, especially our readers in NS and the Halifax area, that the exhibit runs until 28 July. I share the photos Roxanne sent with my heartfelt thanks. There will be more about this exhibit later this month, so stay tuned.
(The assembled listening to our own John Barnstead
holding forth. Photo: Roxanne Smith.)
(Pondering the forgotten memories. Photo by Roxanne Smith.)
(The space looks amazing. ViewPoint moved to Brenton St.
not long ago. Photo by Roxanne Smith.)

This photograph was sent to me by Susan Kerslake, taken when she visited "Glimpses of Forgotten Memories" on Sunday, 7 July. Here photographer Kathleen Flanagan stands in front of her photographs of the Elizabeth Bishop House.



Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Letters to Aunt Grace, Part 114: Domestic matters

The last part of Bishop’s 18 January 1962 letter went from “point to point,” as she wrote, referring to Grace’s busy travel schedule. That is, Bishop closed her letter with a number of subjects, all from the domestic realm.

She returned first to the issue of finding good help, noting to her aunt that it was “almost impossible … to find a couple who are willing to stay off in the country.” Not only did they need help willing to tolerate relative isolation, because Elizabeth and Lota were in Rio so much now, they needed people who would “not leave the house alone,” and who would “feed the cats regularly.” Bishop didn’t feel that it was such a bad situation because there were “neighboring people of their own sort,” by which she must have meant other servants, “around for them to see.” Still, she reported that it was “getting harder and harder all the time.”

Their particular help, “this Maria,” seemed a hopeless case to Bishop, at least in the realm of cooking. After “almost two years,” Bishop noted that “she has learned how to make one thing right: corn meal muffins!” That achievement, according to Bishop, was “only because they like those themselves.” For “everything else,” Bishop moaned, “I have to go and remind her …and taste it.”

All their help was not so problematic. Bishop told Grace that “here in Rio we have a wonderful maid.” This person, “desperate for a room,” had “offered to work for us free”. As a result, she “sleeps here” and “in the morning gives us coffee and milk and the newspapers at 7 A M.” She also “cleans a bit, makes the beds, does a little ironing,” after which she went to “another job at 10:30.” Bishop found her “wonderful — so good and cheerful,” even though she couldn’t “read or write.” And Bishop quickly added, “We do pay her, of course, but very little.” During the day, Bishop noted that she herself got their “lunch and dinner,” which she described as “very skimpy.” But this cheerful person returned after her day job and washed the dishes.

Clearly, Bishop was responsible for most of the cooking regardless, whether in Rio or Samambaia. She noted that “everything here takes so long to do,” unlike in N.Y., where she didn’t “mind cooking … it takes no time at all”; but in Rio “it’s a real job” because “nothing comes cleaned or ready.”

After this account of a circumstance that might be called a “happy problem” (few of us have one maid, let alone several), Bishop must have looked out her window because she quickly shifted to the weather: “the sun is out at last.” After clearly a long stretch of rain, she hoped “things will start to dry out,” and offered that her feet had “been wet for three days I think!”

Another quick shift to: “I am looking forward to my book,” by which she must have meant “that awful LIFE book.” She declared that now she was thinking of writing “one of my own about Brazil,” so she could “say all the things I couldn’t say in it.” To do so would require “more travelling,” so she was thinking she would “use my fellowship just to travel in Brazil.” There went the idea of using it to help her get some place where she could then arrange to see Grace.

Travel led Bishop to the subject of upcoming visitors. She asked her aunt if she had ever met “my old school friend Barbara Chesney.” She was sure Grace had. Bishop reported that “she and her husband — a baby-doctor — are coming here in February.” Bishop had not seen this old friend “for twenty years or so.” Barbara Chesney Kennedy had followed a very different path than Bishop: “She has three sons, pretty grown up now.” Though in a way, Bishop’s life was just as filled with children and grandchildren, even if they were not her own family. 
(Later in life, Barbara Chesney Kennedy became a painter.
To learn more about her, click here.)
The “baby-doctor” triggered her last “//” and the observation that the health authorities “are giving the Sabinanti-polio medicine — by mouth — here now.” Bishop knew Grace would be interested in such developments, even though she was now retired from nursing. Bishop noted that Mary Morse had “brought down Monica, our dressmaker’s grandson, aged 2, and three other children one HOT day last week, to get their 2nd drop.” Transporting this little flock of children on her own in “another tiny Volkswagon,” made Bishop observe rightly, “it must have been quite a trip.” Morse had “a wonderful child-doctor,” who was a friend of theirs, too. He was “in office in Rio now — Public Health.” Bishop observed that “he is really doing wonders.” She admired this positive effort because “just about everything else goes from bad to worse.” 
Having imparted her domestic news, Bishop signed off quickly, asking Grace to “tell me more about the Florida plan,” and to write whenever she was at one of her travel destinations, so Bishop could keep track of her. She urged her elderly aunt to “take care of yourself” and closed “With much love.”

Bishop’s next letter was typed and sent just before Bishop’s fifty-first birthday, 6 February 1962. The next post will take up that epistle.