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.
David St. John
David St. John is the author of over ten collections of poetry, including Study for the World's Body: New and Selected Poems (Perennial, 1994), which was a finalist for the National Book Award. He currently serves on the Board of Chancellors of the Academy of American Poets.
Date Published: 1991-01-01
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/iris