Lucifer in Starlight

By David St. John b. 1949 David St. John

Tired of his dark dominion ...
—George Meredith

It was something I’d overheard
One evening at a party; a man I liked enormously
                     Saying to a mutual friend, a woman
Wearing a vest embroidered with scarlet and violet tulips   
          That belled below each breast, “Well, I’ve always   
Preferred Athens; Greece seems to me a country
                     Of the day—Rome, I’m afraid, strikes me   
As being a city of the night ... ”
          Of course, I knew instantly just what he meant—   
                     Not simply because I love
Standing on the terrace of my apartment on a clear evening   
          As the constellations pulse low in the Roman sky,   
The whole mind of night that I know so well
                     Shimmering in its elaborate webs of infinite,
Almost divine irony. No, and it wasn’t only that Rome
          Was my city of the night, that it was here I’d chosen   
                     To live when I grew tired of my ancient life
As the Underground Man. And it wasn’t that Rome’s darkness   
                     Was of the kind that consoles so many
          Vacancies of the soul; my Rome, with its endless history   
Of falls ... No, it was that this dark was the deep, sensual dark
                     Of the dreamer; this dark was like the violet fur   
Spread to reveal the illuminated nipples of
                     The She-Wolf—all the sequins above in sequence,   
The white buds lost in those fields of ever-deepening gentians,
          A dark like the polished back of a mirror,
                     The pool of the night scalloped and hanging   
Above me, the inverted reflection of a last,
                                                                Odd Narcissus ...

                                           One night my friend Nico came by   
Close to three a.m.—As we drank a little wine, I could see
                     The black of her pupils blown wide,   
The spread ripples of the opiate night ... And Nico
          Pulled herself close to me, her mouth almost
                     Touching my mouth, as she sighed, “Look ... ,”
And deep within the pupil of her left eye,
          Almost like the mirage of a ship’s distant, hanging
                     Lantern rocking with the waves,
I could see, at the most remote end of the receding,
          Circular hallway of her eye, there, at its doorway,   
At the small aperture of the black telescope of the pupil,
                               A tiny, dangling crucifix—   
Silver, lit by the ragged shards of starlight, reflecting
          In her as quietly as pain, as simply as pain ...
Some years later, I saw Nico on stage in New York, singing
          Inside loosed sheets of shattered light, a fluid   
Kaleidoscope washing over her—the way any naked,
                     Emerging Venus steps up along the scalloped lip
          Of her shell, innocent and raw as fate, slowly   
Obscured by a florescence that reveals her simple, deadly
                               Love of sexual sincerity ...
          I didn’t bother to say hello. I decided to remember   
The way in Rome, out driving at night, she’d laugh as she let
          Her head fall back against the cracked, red leather
                               Of my old Lancia’s seats, the soft black wind   
Fanning her pale, chalky hair out along its currents,
          Ivory waves of starlight breaking above us in the leaves;   
The sad, lucent malevolence of the heavens, falling ...
                     Both of us racing silently as light. Nowhere,   
Then forever ...
                                           Into the mind of the Roman night.

David St. John, “Lucifer in Starlight” 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, Love, Men & Women, Desire, Mythology & Folklore, Greek & Roman Mythology

Poetic Terms Allusion, 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, Love, Men & Women, Desire, Mythology & Folklore, Greek & Roman Mythology

POET’S REGION U.S., Southwestern

Poetic Terms Allusion, Free Verse

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