Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

The Poetry of Jennifer Chang : Distinguished Entry, 2003

Conversation with Owl and Clouds

Hunger Essay

Innocence Essay

Conversation with Owl and Clouds

Owl-night, moon-gone, my wherewithal
is yellow pine. Is trillium and unfurled frond.

Clouds,---a cantilever of the trees, vapor-
plied architecture of the ephemeral---teach me

the apparition-life, what tunes the branches'
nocturne off-key: how do bodies turn into

song? Glow of dust and sandstone light, stars
dropped like pebbles, like crumbs, heretofore

a fairy tale trail. Barn owl, secretive and out-
spoken, you spout two minds, a hiding place

and a traffic sign. What's this absence
you speak of? Nonsense-yakking lost soul,

lost soul, the self-question that grows---Who
what?---odd and old. My rude reply: Me, that's who.

Build me up into the fog, into brevity
made beautiful, the wet-dressed disaster

that's rain, that's the storm-threat of forest fire.
I want to be ornate and ornery. More than

a vapor-child, a night's ward like the white
monkshood tucking under its bud, too shameful

to flower. I am hearing it: spring's first wild melt,
each drop trickling into the next, a minor

chord. So snow's gone, so how can I be
ice dissolving in water? (What was ice-fist

is now creek.) Cloud me, sparrowing and bark-
loose, each season's dark ambition: a patient pattern

gone. O, I am hearing it: this say-nothing
noise, how the world's clamor-born and

sorrowful, tricked for loss, the silent purpling
of crocuses mouthing back at the owl:

I will not, and soon---

Hunger Essay

Thou turnest thy face away,                                                                        
all things tremble and grow cold.
--Raphael, from Haydn's Die Schöpfung (The Creation)

He shows me a place in the forest
that sounds of creaking doors. The young ones

are growing. They are
in pain. He shows me:

his hands wring a beech tree's neck
and it moans.

Even my fingers wrap the bark
to touch my wrist. Listen---

Each tree fights out its earthwork. Branching
around us, beneath us

they are an imbroglio of roots---
a chokehold chorus.

From trunk to trunk, we do
the strangle, we do the wicked pole-dance.

He loves the birch's bone-thin pallor
and I watch him match his limbs

to the scrawniest wood.
He will not embrace the wider trees.


Blue-eyed towhead throbbing with falsetto:
Teurer Gatte, dir zur Seite,
schwimmt in Freuden mir das Herz.

He remembers our mother. I don't. She
was, he admitted, a weak soprano.
Dear husband, at thy side

my heart is bathed in rapture.
Blushing at rapture, he gestures, plays Mother's
Eve. Turns the duet solo, Adam gone

silent. Der Abendhauch. Because I won't
sing. Echoes the forest: the evening wind.


Every puddle rivers with desire.
Paltry pools palming a leaf

long to pond.
What is that like? To not fit

one's true shape.
To be less than. Today he pretends

we've run away. I want to
kick him in the shins.

I want to say
Father orphaned us

before his time. Father
would thin the forest

around our house, his axe
a second wife to marry.

His wife, an axe to bed. A stepmother.
I am a stepped child.

I am through
with chokecherries, through

with loam in my throat---
three weeks gone. Pussy-toed,

elegiac, he avoids the pools
and will not answer to Brother.


The Creation ends in love. He places
a hand on the well of my stomach, says
I am more hollow---his hand, a single

bone. We sleep on weather-brittle leaves, on
pine needles that fail to sting, and listen
to our bodies' private rumblings. We are

a thunder each. The Creation ends in
Alleluia! He fancies a garden
of cotton, a rock sugar house that we'll

tear down with hunger. But where will we live?
We were born lost. The forest is our home.

Innocence Essay

I only read in bed.
Father roosts on the edge of night,
waits for the book to drop. In the forest,

the princess blackens her face with dirt.
I understand. It is forbidden.

I cross the hall to become my mother
---we are one face---

and hide her ashes in a shell.
This is where Father wants to be.
Walnut, he calls me,


I only bite your hem. And it is true. It is
a tale Mother told
of the dark envelope. Inside, she said,
were morsels of women, skin
as cold as sand.

She did not know then
that her limbs were stitched
with air.

                                        Holy remnant,
white stain on our sheet. Father,
I know, loves me.


We pass in the garden.      How is grass
not infinite passage?
                                                    I cannot look
but his fingertips
                                   learn my lobe. How is forsythia

not           gold gate that won't permit me?

Under my tree, I survey
the ineffable names of things.

I call this tree Keeper
though its fruits do not fall

to feed me.      Walnut,


child of this mistaken wonder,
I am infanta, Mother's
mirror-      half orphan,

half wife.           I only bite your hem.

Spoken promise. Again. But hem


is what keeps me from the ground.

                              Or hem

is what divides word from sound.

              I read          and the book

                                    replaces the world.

I turn like pages.

the bed stations me,---


I surface, the climax, and gently

the story is the trail.

Father wants a word with me. He sheds

                               his light

around my bed, shifts
the room's dust.

                               I do not budge.

I am in the margins.        Far


                                 as she runs
from the castle
there are crumbs that will lead her back.

There are hunters
who will remember her

tucked into a fur mantle,             clotted
with a season of leaves.

             There are the bees who saw her
sobbing ponds. Their hive,
a curious dangle, an eye.                         In this world,

                                    the bees will talk.


I say Go             but the word whistles.

Go is a kettle
gone weird on the stove. Go
is Father's left brow, left hand,

            left-behind shoe. Take these

to the garden and bury them
in the muddy roots of my tree

and they will grow blue hemlock.
They will grow old
                                                like wallpaper vines.

What Mother called useful,


                                    but ugly:

To each pin
tie a thumb-sized stone

and to each inch around your hem
lock a pin.             Wild winds

will never blow you over -
your skirt, your obedient whim.

            Inside, you
know                   to live the story


is to be safe.

Father, I know,

loves her.                         In the garden,

Father buries

                    the books I have finished,

the books I'll never read.                    I am Walnut.

                               I am the stone                            locked in his mouth.