Edward Hopper’s Automat

Poem by Catherine Chandler

Edward Hopper<i>Automat</i>, 1927

One does not see the gleaming wall of glass,

its nickel slots and plates of apple pie,

the scores of harried customers who pass.

Reflected in the window’s blackened eye,

two rows of matching ceiling fixtures light

a way to nowhere through the city night.

 

Inscrutable as an unsculptured stone,

between the brass-railed stairway and the door,

we see a woman sitting all alone,

a quiet presence in a stark décor.

Her posture mimics, spiritless and still,

the fresh fruit posing on the window sill.

 

A little radiator crouches near

the wall, and yet the woman wears a glove,

a knee-length, fur-trimmed coat, a hat. Career

girl? Actress? Maybe she’s in love . . .

She’s staring far beyond the coffee cup.

I wonder if some man has stood her up.

 

The empty wooden chair, the empty plate,

the downcast eyes beneath the cloche’s brim,

suggest he was expected. Now it’s late,

and any prospect of his coming’s grim.

She weighs her options, as she slowly sips

and seems to pout with daubed vermilion lips.

 

Perhaps she can’t find work, and soon must pack

her dreams and bags and board a Greyhound bound

for where she swore she never would go back.

Perhaps it’s just her favourite stomping ground

where no one blinks at tables set for one;

where one can wallow in oblivion.

 

I want to tell her that I know. I know

she can survive whatever’s brought her here;

that glad and sorry seasons come and go;

that there is nothing and no one to fear —

I’ve owned the loss, I’ve worn the coat and hat.

I am the woman in the automat.