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Cape Breton

Written by: Elizabeth Bishop | Biography
 | Quotes (9) |
 Out on the high "bird islands," Ciboux and Hertford, 
the razorbill auks and the silly-looking puffins all stand 
with their backs to the mainland 
in solemn, uneven lines along the cliff's brown grass-frayed edge, 
while the few sheep pastured there go "Baaa, baaa.
" (Sometimes, frightened by aeroplanes, they stampede and fall over into the sea or onto the rocks.
) The silken water is weaving and weaving, disappearing under the mist equally in all directions, lifted and penetrated now and then by one shag's dripping serpent-neck, and somewhere the mist incorporates the pulse, rapid but unurgent, of a motor boat.
The same mist hangs in thin layers among the valleys and gorges of the mainland like rotting snow-ice sucked away almost to spirit; the ghosts of glaciers drift among those folds and folds of fir: spruce and hackmatack-- dull, dead, deep pea-cock colors, each riser distinguished from the next by an irregular nervous saw-tooth edge, alike, but certain as a stereoscopic view.
The wild road clambers along the brink of the coast.
On it stand occasional small yellow bulldozers, but without their drivers, because today is Sunday.
The little white churches have been dropped into the matted hills like lost quartz arrowheads.
The road appears to have been abandoned.
Whatever the landscape had of meaning appears to have been abandoned, unless the road is holding it back, in the interior, where we cannot see, where deep lakes are reputed to be, and disused trails and mountains of rock and miles of burnt forests, standing in gray scratches like the admirable scriptures made on stones by stones-- and these regions now have little to say for themselves except in thousands of light song-sparrow songs floating upward freely, dispassionately, through the mist, and meshing in brown-wet, fine torn fish-nets.
A small bus comes along, in up-and-down rushes, packed with people, even to its step.
(On weekdays with groceries, spare automobile parts, and pump parts, but today only two preachers extra, one carrying his frock coat on a hanger.
) It passes the closed roadside stand, the closed schoolhouse, where today no flag is flying from the rough-adzed pole topped with a white china doorknob.
It stops, and a man carrying a bay gets off, climbs over a stile, and goes down through a small steep meadow, which establishes its poverty in a snowfall of daisies, to his invisible house beside the water.
The birds keep on singing, a calf bawls, the bus starts.
The thin mist follows the white mutations of its dream; an ancient chill is rippling the dark brooks.



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