Elizabeth Bishop’s “Little Exercise”

Little Exercise (1946)
by Elizabeth Bishop

Think of the storm roaming the sky uneasily
like a dog looking for a place to sleep in,
listen to it growling.

Think how they must look now, the mangrove keys
lying out there unresponsive to the lightning
in dark, coarse-fibred families,

where occasionally a heron may undo his head,
shake up his feathers, make an uncertain comment
when the surrounding water shines.

Think of the boulevard and the little palm trees
all stuck in rows, suddenly revealed
as fistfuls of limp fish-skeletons.

It is raining there. The boulevard
and its broken sidewalks with weeds in every crack,
are relieved to be wet, the sea to be freshened.

Now the storm goes away again in a series
of small, badly lit battle-scenes,
each in “Another part of the field.”

Think of someone sleeping in the bottom of a row-boat
tied to a mangrove root or the pile of a bridge;
think of him as uninjured, barely disturbed.

Elizabeth Bishop, “Little Exercise” from Elizabeth Bishop: The Collected Poems 1927-1979. Suggested to the Humanities Institute by poet Lisa Olstein, UT Department of English. Her most recent book, which has new timeliness, is Pain Studies, Bellevue Literary Press, 2020.


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