American Life in Poetry: Column 155


The American poet Elizabeth Bishop often wrote of how places—both familiar and foreign—looked, how they seemed. Here Marianne Boruch of Indiana begins her poem in this way, too, in a space familiar to us all but made new—made strange—by close observation.


It seems so—         
I don’t know.  It seems   
as if the end of the world   
has never happened in here.   
No smoke, no   
dizzy flaring except   
those candles you can light   
in the chapel for a quarter.   
They last maybe an hour   
before burning out.   
                            And in this room   
where we wait, I see   
them pass, the surgical folk—     
nurses, doctors, the guy who hangs up   
the blood drop—ready for lunch,   
their scrubs still starched into wrinkles,   
a cheerful green or pale blue,   
and the end of a joke, something   
about a man who thought he could be—   
what?  I lose it   
in their brief laughter.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2006 by Marianne Boruch, whose most recent book of poetry is Grace, Fallen from, Wesleyan University Press, 2008. Poem reprinted from “TriQuarterly,” Issue 126, by permission of Marianne Boruch. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.