Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

The Poetry of Jennifer Chang : Winner, 2004

The History of Anonymity

The History of Anonymity


                                   I had the fog's countenance
                                   and it was good. It took me

to the seaside cliffs

where I watched the seaside from a crevice. Cold,

unctuous stone, I sat and saw

                                   the darkness grow      
                                   and grow. Could this be

                                   the afterworld?                                        
                                   I am in this world,

I am two parts water

to one part salt, I am


                                   as a chair.

In The History of Anonymity, the glacier longs to be water,

and each granule of salt

                                   begs a lesser atom.            
                                   We will know each other

                                   less,     the voice writes.         
                                   I am already

                                   in this afterworld.      
                                   You will find me where the

I am two parts…



I traveled to a shore

where I knew tide pools would form.

I loved the sea anemones, loose flowers

or creatures of all mouth,            
moving more as water

                                   than as live things. Their mouths on my ankles,

                                   on my fingers, I wanted to be devoured

and could hear exhales

and inhales

whisper through water. Crouched, I saw this      
as waving. So much

to the sea is seeing. I studied its

its strange inability

                                   to depart

for good. What if I said:

                                   Stay off the shore. It is my shore

                                   and nothing shall enter it.          

                                   THE END,         
                                   finito, Quod erat

                                   demonstrandum: never return.


                                   That simple.


from Page 333 of The History of Anonymity --

The ocean swallowed my diary. It swallowed my words. I have secrets from you. You with no
name, do you love me who is

without a face? Or do you love me without

a sound? In your arms, I am further and we are

                                   one apparition-disperse

and sing

                                   I believe,

                                   you are beginning                           
                                   to understand me.

Are we not

the same

                                   difference, the same           
                                   sums multiplied into an air

abandoned. Weren't you too

                                   born of an empty room? We lack

a bloom. Isn't that                               
where we are?

                                   Rootless. Love,                        
                                   we are



I swam to not drown:

                                   the difference between the two is one stroke.

The water had made me ill.

                                   Submerged, my body--a wave, the sea's

disciple--was gone. My will,

                                   a willing pawn. The world was all

sea long ago,

                                   in the before world. I imagine,

it was much like the afterworld.

                                   Three thoughts and a wave could drag me to shore

or pull me under. The voice:

                                   To not be is to be free. Beautiful pliability,

for once, I was without

                                   questions, a mouth full of salt and seaweed,

kept afloat by heat

                                   and blood. One stroke against the undertow,

or one stroke for.


from page 456 of The History of Anonymity --

I have never liked walking
or listening. Both make me feel more alone.

I listened once
for a rarer bird. Too many gulls

grace this place,
their accompaniment of the tide's yes & no.

Anonymity is not a name
but an entrance. I won't tell you

where I've gone. Love pains us
with knowing. You want to turn the page,

to define every open
vowel. O - that's where I begin

and end, O… no
gasp, please; read nothing into this. It is no music

the ocean makes. The sea,
the shore, whatever you choose

to call it, I won't be
there. I won't


                                   This tide pool pockets five pink stones.

At high tide, there will be none.

There will not even be a pool.                       
And at low tide,

                                   what then?

Perhaps anonymity is the ocean floor

without the ocean.

Then it must also be     
the ground we walk on.

                                   Those five pink stones

                                    and their life of subtraction,

their dustward ambition.            

I would be good at that.


                                   The water had made me ill.

I sat in shallower ripples,
                                   counting dried-out starfish--
they died open-handed, golden--

                                   I sat with two tight fists in my lap.

Were each fist a stone,

                                   I would know the ocean floor, I would

attend the ocean's departure.           


                                   I do not see myself                                              

                                   as different.

Then the day comes         
                                   when I do not see myself at all. Shadows limn my breath

and motion. What is

speaking: a voice               
                                   or a mistake of hearing?                       

                                   First, I was known,


then unknown.

                                   You don't believe me. You think, if there is a voice,

there is a soul, but you are young, your gestures suggest

your composition: stolen wings

                                   of birds, laughable

                                   accidents, and the kindest lies.                    

                                   They died brittle, holding nothing.

A starfish is a cruel hand,         

will choke a sea urchin with its cruel clasp.

                                   I have seen this many times.       
Seen the sea urchin turn

anonymous, seen it limp

and lose its shell.                                              
                                   Six dried-out starfish

around a dried-out pool,                                              
                                   with each finger torn.

                                   My voice

                                   is always becoming another voice.

There were nights of evaporation:   
the ocean made a fog, fixed above

and yet, drifting into the next valley.
                                   Did the fog make an ocean there?
I won't say I am loneliest at night--

                                   the water had made me ill--
but every night I saw
                                   an entrance, and saw

the tides, at their highest, stand still.                                              

                                   Waves are waves

and wind              
their counterpoint.                

                                   And what am I?


from page 910 of The History of Anonymity

                                   Mostly, I have forgotten that world.

I had a face          
                                    then, gave it up. The eyes

were gray. Or green, a color

                                   like a growl. I have                          
                                    forgotten. In the afterworld, every we

 is an I.                

                                   Does knowing this soothe you?                               

                                   Your longing

has a clean finish;

mine echoes its hollow chord,

                                    is too frail.