About this poet

Born in Fresno, California, on July 24, 1949, David St. John was educated at California State University, Fresno, where he received his B.A. In 1974, he received an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa.

His many books of poetry include: The Face: A Novella in Verse (HarperPerennial, 2005); Prism (2002); In the Pines: Lost Poems (1999) Study for the World's Body: New and Selected Poems (1994), which was nominated for the National Book Award; Terraces of Rain: An Italian Sketchbook (1991); No Heaven (1985); The Shore (1980); and Hush (1976).

He is also the author of a volume essays and interviews, Where the Angels Come Toward Us (White Pine Press, 1995) and has edited numerous collections including The Pushcart Book of Poetry (2006) and American Hybrid: A Norton Anthology of New Poetry (2009) which he co-edited with Cole Swenson.

The poet Robert Hass says of St. John's writing:

It's not just gorgeous, it is go-for-broke gorgeous. It is made out of sentences, sweeping through and across the meticulous verse stanzas, that could have been written, for their velvet and intricate suavity, by Henry James.

His awards include the Discovery The Nation prize, the James D. Phelan Prize, and the prix de Rome fellowship in literature. He has also received several National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships and a Guggenheim Fellowship. St. John currently lives in Los Angeles, where he teaches in the English Department at the University of Southern California.

Los Angeles, 1954

David St. John, 1949
              It was in the old days,
When she used to hang out at a place
                        Called Club Zombie,
A black cabaret that the police liked
         To raid now and then. As she
              Stepped through the door, the light
         Would hit her platinum hair,
And believe me, heads would turn. Maestro
         Loved it; he'd have her by
The arm as he led us through the packed crowd
                        To a private corner
Where her secluded oak table always waited.
         She'd say, Jordan... 
                        And I'd order her usual,
A champagne cocktail with a tall shot of bourbon
              On the side. She'd let her eyes
         Trail the length of the sleek neck
                       Of the old stand-up bass, as
The bass player knocked out the bottom line,
              His forehead glowing, glossy
                             With sweat in the blue lights;
Her own face, smooth and shining, as
              The liquor slowly blanketed the pills
                             She'd slipped beneath her tongue.
Maestro'd kick the shit out of anybody
              Who tried to sneak up for an autograph;
He'd say, Jordan, just let me know if
                         Somebody gets too close....
         Then he'd turn to her and whisper, Here's
 Where you get to be Miss Nobody...
                             And she'd smile as she let him
         Kiss her hand. For a while, there was a singer
              At the club, a guy named Louis--
But Maestro'd change his name to "Michael Champion";
                             Well, when this guy leaned forward,
Cradling the microphone in his huge hands,
              All the legs went weak 
                                  Underneath the ladies.
He'd look over at her, letting his eyelids
              Droop real low, singing, Oh Baby I...
                    Oh Baby I Love...    I Love You...
And she'd be gone, those little mermaid tears
              Running down her cheeks. Maestro
         Was always cool. He'd let them use his room upstairs,
Sometimes, because they couldn't go out--
         Black and white couldn't mix like that then.
                                  I mean, think about it--
This kid star and a cool beauty who made King Cole
              Sound raw? No, they had to keep it
                                  To the club; though sometimes,
Near the end, he'd come out to her place
         At the beach, always taking the iced whisky
I brought to him with a sly, sweet smile.
                   Once, sweeping his arm out in a slow
         Half-circle, the way at the club he'd
              Show the audience how far his endless love
                                  Had grown, he marked
The circumference of the glare whitening the patio
              Where her friends all sat, sunglasses
         Masking their eyes...
                   And he said to me, Jordan, why do
 White people love the sun so?--
                                God's spotlight, my man?
         Leaning back, he looked over to where she
                        Stood at one end of the patio, watching
The breakers flatten along the beach below,
                             Her body reflected and mirrored
Perfectly in the bedroom's sliding black glass
                                  Door. He stared at her
                   Reflection for a while, then looked up at me
And said, Jordan, I think that I must be
          Like a pool of water in a cave that sometimes
                                   She steps into...
Later, as I drove him back into the city,
                   He hummed a Bessie Smith tune he'd sing
         For her, but he didn't say a word until
We stopped at last back at the club. He stepped
                        slowly out of the back
                   Of the Cadillac, and reaching to shake my hand
Through the open driver's window, said,
                             My man, Jordan... Goodbye.

From Study for the World's Body, published by HarperCollins, 1994. Copyright © 1991 by David St. John. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

From Study for the World's Body, published by HarperCollins, 1994. Copyright © 1991 by David St. John. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

David St. John

David St. John

Born in Fresno, California, in 1949, David St. John was educated at California

by this poet

It was there, in that little town
On top of the mountain, they walked,
Francesco and Chiara,
That's who they were, that's what
They told themselves--a joke, their joke
About two saints, failed lovers held apart
From the world of flesh, Francis and Clare,
Out walking the old city, two saints,
Sainted ones, holy,
  Vivian St. John (1881-1974)

There is a train inside this iris:

You think I'm crazy, & like to say boyish
& outrageous things. No, there is

A train inside this iris.

It's a child's finger bearded in black banners.
A single window like a child's nail,

A darkened porthole lit by the white,