In her poem, "In the Waiting Room," Elizabeth Bishop also engages with concepts of personal identity, the relationship of self to other, self to group, and self to world. Bishop's speaker is her 6 year old self, and she goes through a range of personal and relative discoveries over the course of the poem.
The young girl demonstrates a sense of self early in the poem: "I read / the National Geographic / (I could read)"
In the magazine, the speaker comes across an image which sparks a powerful encounter with otherness:
"black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of lightbulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.”
This image prompts a range of internal considerations for the young girl. Upon hearing her aunt scream from the other room,
“What took me
completely by surprise
was that it was me:
my voice, in my mouth.
Without thinking at all
I was my foolish aunt, I—we—were falling, falling”
In this moment, Bishop recognizes the interconnectedness of herself and her aunt, and subsequently she recognizes that of herself and something bigger.
“you are an Elizabeth,
you are one of them”
Bishop's speaker becomes hyperaware of her place in the world. She simultaneously recognizes herself as an individual and as part of a collective.
“Why should I be my aunt,
or me, or anyone?
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts—
held us all together
or made us all just one?”
These lines exemplify Bishop’s recognition in the poem of:
Self and Self
Self and Other
Self and Collective
Bishop describes a specific issue of National Geographic that does not actually exist. Thus, "In the Waiting Room" cannot be read as completely autobiographical.
Tommy Pico, who also writes about his personal experiences, uses an alter ego named "Teebs" in his book Nature Poem to achieve a similar level of disconnect between himself and his writing.