Gas Station Rest Room

By Alan R. Shapiro b. 1952
The present tense   
is the body’s past tense   
here; hence   
the ghost sludge of hands   
on the now gray strip
of towel hanging limp
from the jammed dispenser;
hence the mirror   
squinting through grime   
at grime, and the worn-
to-a-sliver of soiled soap   
on the soiled sink.
The streaked bowl,
the sticky toilet seat, air
claustral with stink—
all residues and traces
of the ancestral   
spirit of body free
of spirit—hence,
behind the station,
at the back end of the store,
hidden away
and dimly lit
this cramped and   
solitary carnival   
becoming Saul   
becoming scents
and animal; hence,   
over the insides   
of the lockless stall
the cave-like
scribblings and glyphs   
declaring unto all
who come to it
in time: “heaven   
is here at hand
and dark, and hell   
is odorless; hell
is bright and clean.”

Source: Poetry (September 2008).


This poem originally appeared in the September 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

September 2008
 Alan R. Shapiro


Born in Boston, Massachusetts, Alan Shapiro was educated at Brandeis University. As the author of numerous collections of poetry, Shapiro has explored family, loss, domesticity, and the daily aspects of people’s lives in free verse and traditional poetic forms. He has published over ten books of poetry, most recently Reel to Reel (2014), a finalist for the Pulizer Prize; Night of the Republic (2012), a finalist for the National . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Social Commentaries, Life Choices

POET’S REGION U.S., Southern

Report a problem with this poem

Your results will be limited to content that appeared in Poetry magazine.

Search Every Issue of Poetry

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.