Campbell Corner Poetry Prize

Contest Archive

The Poetry of April Selley: Finalist, 2000


Live House Turning: Tokyo

Studying Stone


We guide the extension cord out the kitchen door,
through the garden, to the corn.
We plug in the single burner;
put on the pot to boil. Silent among
stalks, we wait for the
hiss on the pan's bottom.

Old farmers say that corn begins to lose
its sweetness as soon as it is shattered
from the stalk. We have practiced
and are down to five seconds from plant
to pot. We shuck the corn; drop it in.

After five minutes, the tongs.
The boiling water will seal
the flavor for awhile. We are
leisurely with salt and butter;
the corn is too hot to touch. It's like
waiting for a kiss.

But it's true: this is
the only way to appreciate corn,
though every meal after this
will taste of decay.


Adam and Eve did not sample an apple,
but corn. They first scoffed at Satan's
temptation, knowing corn was inedible.
That's when he taught them to
chop down trees for wood,
invent fire,
kill tough-skinned animals to make pots,
use water instead of merely drinking it.
They realized how boring Paradise had been.

And then they wanted to cook everything.
God knew they'd eventually burn down Eden,
consume themselves. So He
sent them into the desert
to scrounge and to conceive helpers.
Satan had explained sex, too,
pointing out corn's phallic symbolism.


And so we all go back to fast-fading
corn. But today you and I have eaten
a perfect meal. We lie under the
human-invaded sky,
pick out the satellites,
and wonder
if this is our first night in Eden,
or our first night outside of it.

Live House Turning: Tokyo

On the way to get my alien card,
I see a sign in English for "Live House Turning."
Now I understand:
things are different here in the East.
Everything is alive.
No wonder my students studying Poe accept
the sentience of Usher's mansion
and remove their shoes at home.

I had thought that the odd angles of houses
reflected cramped Tokyo real estate,
but now I know: homes are slowly shifting position,
like all living things. In twenty years
their human owners will notice that the windows
face slightly more north,
that they have a different perspective from which
to view the world.

There are, in the famous woodblock print series,
thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji. And if
there were a holographic camera on the world,
like the eye of God, it would record,
over a million years, how earth and sea
and structures had consummated
not only those, but infinite views of Fuji-san.
This is what the woodcut artist knew.

And this is what the haiku master knows:
that a poem changes as the earth changes,
turns for each reader like the slow,
sentient buildings of Tokyo,
where even the sand composing the glass
and concrete is still shifting.


In this city of buildings askew, I live in
"The Jelly Building," survivor of the 1923 quake.
I know that this building feels.
My friend, though told it was impossible,
felt the 1995 Kobe earthquake here--
the jolt of ruin that killed six thousand.
The earth turns, too, not only around
the sun, but within itself,
under the twelve million of us in Tokyo,
with our live houses ready
to turn over and to turn to dust--
not to insult us, but to remind us
of the message of the local Shinto shrines:
this is sacred ground,
this is living ground,
this is ground that will eventually enfold us,
us and our material Tokyo
already quivering slowly on its animate axis
to the movement of time.


Studying Stone

Mother to young daughter: "I'm not going to buy you a book on
geology when you can't even read."

                                    --overheard in Barnes & Noble

Very early,
we desire what we don't yet understand:
it is training for love,
for reading layers in stone.

Growing up in granite New England,
I had a rock collection. I treasured,
free of charge and unbreakable,
the rare white quartz
and the rarer stones of orange, black and sparkle:
compression of fiery eras,
now safely cool to the touch.

But once I found a red cratered boulder,
like a bloody, petrified sponge,
and my best friend said
it had dropped from the moon.
I ran to my mother,
awed and scared by this random intrusion
into our neighborhood.

Years later, I have
the crystalled ovaries of geodes
on my bookshelf. Next to them
are the poets who know the true nature
of stone: jewels, meteorites and even humans
are a form of braille.