Vivian St. John (1891-1974)
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 & 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
& you remain.