The Poetry of Richard St. John

Claire Bateman Weekly Hubris Banner 2017

“Our masters and almost friends,/in lab coats and white Cossack smocks,/floated like ghosts across the hillside,/holding our leashes, staring blindly/at the lens./Sniffing, loafing, eager, and at ease,/everything excited us!”By Richard St. John

Speculative Friction

By Claire Bateman

The poet Richard St. John.
The poet Richard St. John.

Claire Bateman

GREENVILLE South Carolina—(Weekly Hubris)—February 2020—Richard St. John is the author of Each Perfected Name (Truman State University Press, 2015), The Pure Inconstancy of Grace (published in 2005 by Truman State University Press, as first runner-up for the T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry), and Shrine (a long poem released as a chapbook in 2011). He has read widely across the country, connecting not only with university and literary audiences, but also with listeners new to poetry.

By Richard St. John

Our poison killed it, so we thought.
Then we saw the small, gray mouse
jerking in circles on our concrete step.

We dropped a metal saucepan over it,
to keep the hawks or cats
from being poisoned, too — to stop

the fall of death’s black dominoes.
Folly.  When we checked,
the mouse was standing up.

Beneath the lifted rim, in shadow,
we could just discern
the breeding, dark

bright droplet of each eye.
I gloved and dropped him in a bag,
inside a bag, within another bag,

and last, the armor
of the city garbage truck.
No getting out of that.  Except:

like minute, finely-fingered stars,
those delicate, white feet
that stalk our sleep.

Pavlov’s Dogs
By Richard St. John

Meat powder doled out in grams, mere shadow
of real meat.  Secrets distilled to secretions.

The fistulas, tubes and antiseptics.
At each shock, we howled in our traces.

How we longed to run…yet
we returned — like a long-forgotten

portion of their souls.
And in that old photograph:

the spidery, November trees;
dark edge of the institute,

cropped almost out of sight.
Our masters and almost friends,

in lab coats and white Cossack smocks,
floated like ghosts across the hillside,

holding our leashes, staring blindly
at the lens.

Sniffing, loafing, eager, and at ease,
everything excited us!

The air, umber and bittersweet;
roots, bark; the slight, frayed grasses;

lacey shards of leaves;
all the buried unseen!

A bell rang in the far stone tower
and they led us inside again.

By Richard St. John

A hundred animals, startled when they stop,
and catching each other’s scent.  The priests
would sprinkle barley meal and pray aloud
on their behalf.  Perhaps they’d place a cloth
over the beasts’ wide eyes, to quiet them.
Even so, the screams were terrible.  The blood
ran into the dark bronze bowls.  Thigh bones and fat
were given to the gods.  Then everyone was fed.

* * *
The late-night deli clerk returns.  A waft of cold
comes with her from the storage room.  She hefts
a head of meat onto the slicing tray.
She’s thin, say 55, and black.  Pale hairnet
underneath her baseball cap.   She prints the barcode,
slides the plastic sleeve across the counter top.
“Anything else?” Her weary eyes meet mine:
they’re dark and lit with startling bronze flecks.

To order copies of Claire Bateman’s books Scape or Coronolgy from Amazon, click on the book covers below.

Bateman Scape

Bateman Coronology

Claire Bateman’s books include Scape (New Issues Poetry & Prose); Locals (Serving House Books), The Bicycle Slow Race (Wesleyan University Press), Friction (Eighth Mountain Poetry Prize), At The Funeral Of The Ether (Ninety-Six Press, Furman University), Clumsy (New Issues Poetry & Prose), Leap (New Issues), and Coronology (Etruscan Press). She has been awarded Individual Artist Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Tennessee Arts Commission, and the Surdna Foundation, as well as two Pushcart Prizes and the New Millennium Writings 40th Anniversary Poetry Prize. She has taught at Clemson University, the Greenville Fine Arts Center, and various workshops and conferences such as Bread Loaf and Mount Holyoke. She lives in Greenville, South Carolina. (Please see Bateman’s Author’s Page for links to all her publications, and go here for further information about the poet and her work.) (Author Head Shot Augment: René Laanen.)