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, angular face Of an old woman, or perhaps the boy beside her in the stuffy, Hot compartment. Her hair is silver, & sweeps Back off her forehead, onto her cold and bruised shoulders. The prairies fail along Chicago. Past the five Lakes. Into the black woods of her New York; & as I bend Close above the iris, I see the train Drive deep into the damp heart of its stem, & the gravel Of the garden path Cracks under my feet as I walk this long corridor Of elms, arched Like the ceiling of a French railway pier where a boy With pale curls holding A fresh iris is waving goodbye to a grandmother, gazing A long time Into the flower, as if he were looking some great Distance, or down an empty garden path & he believes a man Is walking toward him, working Dull shears in one hand; & now believe me: The train Is gone. The old woman is dead, & the boy. The iris curls, On its stalk, in the shade Of those elms: Where something like the icy & bitter fragrance In the wake of a woman who's just swept past you on her way Home & you remain.
From Study for the World's Body, published by HarperCollins, 1994. Copyright © 1991 by David St. John. All rights reserved. Used with permission.