Elizabeth Bishop’s poem “Filling Station” describes an obsolete place in the modern world. This is a small, family owned gas station that puts the gas in the tank for the driver. There is no convenience store or fast food eating attached to it. It probably has a garage that is used to change the oil and fix tires for the customers. This may be a station in a small town that even houses the family in the back of the station.
In the beginning of the poem, the primary imagery that the speaker points up is the dirtiness that infiltrates everything. It is so oily that it covers the entire area with a black film. Someone warns a customer to be careful when lighting a match around all of the oil and gas. The poet’s alliteration makes the image of the station come to life:
Oh, but it is dirty!
--this little filling station,
to a disturbing, over-all
Working in the filling station are the father and his sons. There are things that make the reader feel that this station has seen better days. The father wears an old coverall that is too tight and rubs his underarms. Possibly, he cannot afford to buy a new one. His sons are described as quick and yet sarcastic. It is indeterminate how many sons are working since the poet uses the term several. Regardless, all of these hard working men are covered with grease and oil. To the speaker, it is disgusting.
The speaker asks the question if the family lives in the station. She is a part of the family but in the beginning tries to disassociate herself from this dirty bunch.
In the back of the pumps is a concrete porch that has wicker chairs on it. There the family dog lounges comfortable in one of the chairs. This is the place that the workers sit when they have a spare moment.
Inside the station, the narrator finds a different scene somewhat devoid of the dirt and grease. Someone has attempted to create a homey scene. There is a table that comes from a set. It is covered with a pink, hairy plant. There is a homemade crocheted and embroidered doily.
Alongside the other things on the table are comic books that provide the needed color for the area. Somebody has used feminine touches to make a place that is unconnected to the outside world of the filling station. The important part comes at the end of the poem when the poet remarks that it is obvious that whoever created this little oasis loved this family.