The Shore

By David St. John b. 1949 David St. John
So the tide forgets, as morning
Grows too far delivered, as the bowls   
Of rock and wood run dry.
What is left seems pearled and lit,   
As those cases
Of the museum stood lit
With milk jade, rows of opaque vases   
Streaked with orange and yellow smoke.   
You found a lavender boat, a single   
Figure poling upstream, baskets   
Of pale fish wedged between his legs.   
Today, the debris of winter
Stands stacked against the walls,   
The coils of kelp lie scattered
Across the floor. The oil fire
Smokes. You turn down the lantern   
Hung on its nail. Outside,
The boats aligned like sentinels.   
Here beside the blue depot, walking   
The pier, you can see the way
The shore
Approximates the dream, how distances   
Repeat their deaths
Above these tables and panes of water—   
As climbing the hills above
The harbor, up to the lupine drifting   
Among the lichen-masked pines,   
The night is pocked with lamps lit   
On every boat offshore,
Galleries of floating stars. Below,
On its narrow tracks shelved
Into the cliff’s face,
The train begins its slide down
To the warehouses by the harbor. Loaded   
With diesel, coal, paychecks, whiskey,   
Bedsheets, slabs of ice—for the fish,   
For the men. You lean on my arm,   
As once
I watched you lean at the window;   
The bookstalls below stretched a mile   
To the quay, the afternoon crowd   
Picking over the novels and histories.   
You walked out as you walked out last   
Night, onto the stone porch. Dusk   
Reddened the walls, the winds sliced   
Off the reefs. The vines of the gourds   
Shook on their lattice. You talked   
About that night you stood
Behind the black pane of the French   
Window, watching my father read some long   
Of a famous voyager’s book. You hated   
That voice filling the room,
Its light. So tonight we make a soft   
Parenthesis upon the sand’s black bed.   
In that dream we share, there is
One shore, where we look out upon nothing   
And the sea our whole lives;
Until turning from those waves, we find
One shore, where we look out upon nothing   
And the earth our whole lives.   
Where what is left between shore and sky   
Is traced in the vague wake of   
(The stars, the sandpipers whistling)   
What we forgive. If you wake soon, wake me.

David St. John, “The Shore” 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 Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Landscapes & Pastorals, Men & Women, Relationships, Nature

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 Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Landscapes & Pastorals, Men & Women, Relationships, Nature

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Free Verse

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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