By David St. John b. 1949 David St. John
There’s a mystery
By the river, in one of the cabins
Shuttered with planks, its lock
Twisted; a bunch of magazines flipped open,   
A body. A blanket stuffed with leaves
Or lengths of rope, an empty gin bottle.   
Put down your newspaper. Look out
Beyond the bluffs, a coal barge is passing,   
Its deck nearly
Level with the water, where it comes back riding   
High. You start talking about nothing,   
Or that famous party, where you went dressed   
As a river. They listen,
The man beside you touching his odd face   
In the countertop, the woman stirring tonic   
In your glass. Down the bar the talk’s divorce,   
The docks, the nets
Filling with branches and sour fish. Listen,
I knew a woman who’d poke a hole in an egg, suck   
It clean and fill the shell with gin,
Then walk around all day disgusting people   
Until she was so drunk
The globe of gin broke in her hand. She’d stay   
Alone at night on the boat, come back
Looking for another egg. That appeals to you, rocking   
For hours carving at a hollow stone. Or finding   
A trail by accident, walking the bluff’s
Face. You know, your friends complain. They say   
You give up only the vaguest news, and give a bakery
As your phone. Even your stories
Have no point, just lots of detail: The room
Was long and bright, small and close, angering Gaston;   
They turned away to embrace him; She wore   
The color out of season,
She wore hardly anything at all; Nobody died; Saturday.   
These disguises of omission. Like forgetting
To say obtuse when you talk about the sun, leaving   
Off the buttons as you’re sewing up the coat. So,   
People take the little
They know to make a marvelous stew;
Sometimes, it even resembles you. It’s not so much   
You cover your tracks, as that they bloom
In such false directions. This way friends who awaken   
At night, beside you, awaken alone.

David St. John, “Gin” 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 Friends & Enemies, Relationships

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 Friends & Enemies, Relationships

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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