Iris, by David St. John

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.

 

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Francesco and Clare, by David St. John

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, held close to the life…
Poverty, the pure life, the one
Life for Franziskus and Klara,
Stalwarts given
To the joys of God in heaven
And on earth, Mother, praising Brother Sun
And sister Moon; twin saints, unified
In their beauty as one, Francisco and Clara,
A beauty said of God’s will and word, bestowed
And polished by poverty, François
With Claire, the chosen poverty, the true
Poverty that would not be their lives…
And they took their favorite names, Clare and Francesco,
Walking the streets of stone the true saints
Walked, watching as the larks swirled
Above the serene towers, the larks
Francesco once described as the color
Of goodness, that is, of the earth, of the dead…
Larks who’d not seek for themselves any extravagant
Plumage, humble and simple, God’s birds
Twirling and twisting up the pillowing air…
And Francesco said to Clare, Oh little plant I love,

My eyes are almost blind with Brother Sun…tell me,

Who hides inside God’s time…?
And Clare, rock of all Poor Clares, stood
In the warm piazza overlooking the valley, weary,
Her shoulder bag sagging from the weight
Of her maps and books, and said across the rain-slick
Asphalt of the parking lot, to the poor bird climbing
The wheel of sky it always had loved best,
Dear lark, dear saint, all my kisses on your nest!