By David St. John b. 1949 David St. John
They are so like
Us, frozen in a bald passion
Or absent
Gaze, like the cows whose lashes
Sag beneath their frail sacks of ice.
Your eyes are white with fever, a long   
Sickness. When you are asleep,
Dreaming of another country, the wheat’s   
Pale surface sliding
In the wind, you are walking in every breath   
Away from me. I gave you a stone doll,
Its face a dry apple, wizened, yet untroubled.   
It taught us the arrogance of silence,
How stone and God reward us, how dolls give us   
Nothing. Look at your cane,
Look how even the touch that wears it away   
Draws up a shine, as the handle
Gives to the hand. As a girl, you boiled   
Your dolls, to keep them clean, presentable;   
You’d stir them in enormous pots,
As the arms and legs bent to those incredible   
Postures you preferred, not that ordinary, human   
Pose. How would you like me?—
Leaning back, reading aloud from a delirious   
Book. Or sprawled across your bed,
As if I’d been tossed off a high building   
Into the street,
A lesson from a young government to its people.   
When you are asleep, walking the fields of another
Country, a series of shadows slowly falling
Away, marking a way,
The sky leaning like a curious girl above a new   
Sister, your face a doll’s deliberate
Ache of white, you walk along that grove of madness,   
Where your mother waits. Hungry, very still.   
When you are asleep, dreaming of another country,   
This is the country.

David St. John, “Dolls” from Study for the World's Body: Selected Poems (New York: HarperCollins, 1994). Copyright © 1994, 2005 by David St. John. Reprinted by permission of the author.

Source: Study for the World's Body: New and Selected Poems (HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 1994)

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Poet David St. John b. 1949

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Subjects Relationships, Men & Women

Poetic Terms Free Verse

 David  St. John


David St. John has been honored, over the course of his career, with many of the most significant prizes for poets, including both the Rome Fellowship and the Award in Literature from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the O.B. Hardison Prize for teaching and poetic achievement from the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the George Drury Smith Lifetime Achievement Award from Beyond Baroque. He is the author of . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Relationships, Men & Women

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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