Study Guide

Filling Station Appearances

By Elizabeth Bishop

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Oh, but it is dirty! (1)

Our first impression of the place is one of filth. And exclamatory filth, to boot. Sure, the speaker is merely describing the station here, but there's also a judgy tone to her evaluation. We can just see her rubbing her hands with her handkerchief, saying ick!

oil-soaked, oil-permeated (3)

Not surprisingly for a filling station, it's greasy. But for it to actually look greasy, it's got to be pretty extreme. It's as if everything in this joint has become one with the purpose of the filling station. Everything is oily.

to a disturbing, over-all
black translucency. (4-5)

She said it, not Shmoop: this place is disturbing. Again, she's getting judgy. What's so disturbing about a gas station being oily? We mean, isn't it supposed to be?

(it's a family filling station),
all quite thoroughly dirty. (12-13)

The fact that it's family run and it's dirty says something about the family indirectly, too: they're probably pretty dirty. So is the speaker judging them just as much as she's judging their workplace? Can we even separate the two? They do live there, after all.

It has a cement porch (15)

Not exactly a glam look. And here's the first hint that this family doesn't just work at the station—they call it home. So the question is, does this make the speaker more friendly and sympathetic to them? Or is she just plain horrified that these folks are willing to live in a grease trap?

a set of crush and grease-
impregnated wickerwork; (17-18)

So wicker is definitely a little cuter than the cement porch the furniture sits on, but if it's grease-impregnated, its cute factor is seriously diminished.

Some comic books provide the only note of color— (21-22)

This is pretty grim, too. But our favorite part about these lines is the little hint of synesthesia going on. She describes the comic books as a "note" of color. That makes us think that this filling station is a pretty quiet place, just like it's gray and bleak.

upon a big dim doily (24)

Even the doily is colorless, and seemingly lifeless. To be fair, it's probably pretty oil-soaked. But why hasn't the family taken care of it? Could the woman who's responsible for placing the doily on the table be gone?

a big hirsute begonia. (27)

There's a big bushy plant on the porch. This might be the only thing the family has that hasn't been described in a completely disgusting, negative way.

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