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Large Bad Picture

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Written by Elizabeth Bishop

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 Remembering the Strait of Belle Isle or
some northerly harbor of Labrador,
before he became a schoolteacher
a great-uncle painted a big picture.
Receding for miles on either side into a flushed, still sky are overhanging pale blue cliffs hundreds of feet high, their bases fretted by little arches, the entrances to caves running in along the level of a bay masked by perfect waves.
On the middle of that quiet floor sits a fleet of small black ships, square-rigged, sails furled, motionless, their spars like burnt match-sticks.
And high above them, over the tall cliffs' semi-translucent ranks, are scribbled hundreds of fine black birds hanging in n's in banks.
One can hear their crying, crying, the only sound there is except for occasional sizhine as a large aquatic animal breathes.
In the pink light the small red sun goes rolling, rolling, round and round and round at the same height in perpetual sunset, comprehensive, consoling, while the ships consider it.
Apparently they have reached their destination.
It would be hard to say what brought them there, commerce or contemplation.

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