September 2022 Poetry Feature: Ama Codjoe—from BLUEST NUDE

This month we welcome back TC contributor AMA CODJOE, with poems from her new collection, Bluest Nude, from Milkweed Editions.
 

Image of a statue of a woman wearing a dress in white against a beige background, cover of Ama Codjoe's poetry collection.

Ama Codjoe is the author of Bluest Nude (Milkweed Editions, 2022) and Blood of the Air (Northwestern University Press, 2020), winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. Her recent poems have appeared in The Nation, The Atlantic, The Best American Poetry series, and elsewhere. Among other honors, she has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award, a Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship, and a Jerome Hill Artist Fellowship. She lives in New York City.

Table of Contents:

  • Of Being in Motion
  • On Seeing and Being Seen
  • Bluest Nude


Of Being in Motion

There’s a body marching toward mine.
I can feel its breasts and stomach, hot

against my back. Its breath in my hair.
I accumulate bodies—my own.

The tattoo braceleting my wrist.
My earlobe like a pin hole camera.

My vagina, untouched. My vagina,
stretched. So many bodies treading

toward the others. And the bruises I conceal
with makeup and denial. The scars I inflict

on myself, and the ones I contort
with a mirror to see. I didn’t always know

we’d be joined like this—that I couldn’t
leave any of myself behind.

In Trisha Brown’s Spanish Dance
a performer raises both arms like a bailora

and shifts her weight from hip to hip, knee
to knee, ankle to ankle, until she softly

collides with another dancer. The two travel
forward, pelvis to sacrum, stylized fingers

flared overhead, until they meet a third woman
and touch her back like stacked spoons.

Dressed in identical white pants and long
sleeves, the dancers repeat the steps

until, single file, five women shuffle
forward—they go no further.

The dance lasts the exact length of Bob Dylan’s
rendition “Early Mornin’ Rain.”

How many versions of myself pile
into the others, arms lifted in surrender,

torsos twisting to the harmonica?
But the dancers—I’m moved by their strange

conga line. A train of women traversing
the stage, running gently into a wall.

 

On Seeing and Being Seen

I don’t like being photographed. When we kissed
at a wedding, the night grew long and luminous.
You unhooked my bra. A photograph
passes for proof, Sontag says, that a given thing
has happened. Or you leaned back to watch
as I eased the straps from my shoulders.
Hooks and eyes. Right now, my breasts
are too tender to be touched. Their breasts
were horrifying, Elizabeth Bishop writes. Tell her
someone wanted to touch them. I am touching
the photograph of my last seduction. It is as slick
as a magazine page, as dark as a street
darkened by rain. When I want to remember
something beautiful, instead of taking
a photograph, I close my eyes.
I watched as you covered my nipple
with your mouth. Desire made you
beautiful. I closed my eyes.
Tonight, I am alone in my tenderness.
There is nothing in my hand except a certain
grasping. In my mind’s eye, I am
stroking your hair with damp fingertips. This is exactly
how it happened. On the lit-up hotel bed,
I remember thinking, My body is a lens
I can look through with my mind.

 

Bluest Nude

1.

When my mother was pregnant, she drove
every night to the Gulf of Mexico. 
Leaving her keys and a towel on the shore,
she waded into the surf. Floating
naked, on her back, turquoise waves 
hemming her ears, she allowed
the water to do the carrying. It isn’t 
true. My mother lived hours inland 

and her doctor prescribed bed rest. I want her 
to be weightless, belly up and moon-lit 
or filling a bathtub with hot water and stepping 
gingerly, so as not to slip, easing herself
into the cramped tub, rimmed 
with dirt from her husband and son, 
soaking for as many minutes as she could,
savoring the water as it turned cold.

2.

In the news, there was another
 
incident . . . If I describe how 

the officer treated 

the young woman’s body,

I am also describing 

the color of her body.

Let me refuse simile. 

I do not wish to write it.

3. 

In the flower of my body—
    blossoms belonging,
                at last,
                           to me,
    sovereign
    place, where I am no one
    but myself: peony and cracked vase, 
                           weeping beech and spiraled shell,
                           siren, matron, Jezebel—

a rush of bees enters me,
and I am not stung;

petals unfold in night’s 
bluest hymn.

4.

The blue swimming pool. The blue 
in a record’s groove, revolving. 
The pink hydrangea turned 
powder blue. Glory-of-the-snow 
blue. Blue-black blue. The blue 
of a bruise. Wild blueberry
blue. The blue you pick. The blue 
you choose. The blue that bucks us 
like a bull. The blue bowl full 
of lilacs. The blue that falls 
as tufts of hair from the barber’s 
chair. The blue sun makes. 
The blue shade of a yellow pine. 
Television blue. Cadmium blue.
Blue twisted into the spools
of your DNA, forking into two 
directions. Blue darkening 
your knees. The blue you miss 
because—though it almost 
killed you—blue was, 
for a season, your home.

5.

There was another . . . incident. 

If I describe how the officer treated 

the young woman’s body, I am also 

describing the color 

of my body.

6.

Then the last piece, a solemn veil lifted
    and tossed to the floor. I know the history 
of my body is a pair of hacked off hands 

playing the piano. Day after day in the artist’s 
    studio, I smell the melon’s ripe decay.
I draw a second body, then a third, and so on. 

My bodies reveal nothing and conceal 
    nothing. Pin-up beauty, runaway, Venus 
of the Circus Act, nightwalker, wet nurse, 

odalisque, reclining nude. The women are me 
    and are not only me. Ours are the only eyes. 
We construct our seeing as clay or wood 

into figurines of air. We perceive their shapes 
    and uses just as wind is seen by watching leaves. 
These are the paintings I make of myself.

Art is drawn on the cave of my body. 
    There are as many walls inside me 
as there are bones at the bottom of the sea. 

It matters little how small I am in the pool
    of another’s eye. It’s awe or indifference 
I crave. I want to be seen clearly or not at all.

The moon is an eye flung open, useless 
    without a pupil. It soothes me, this not seeing. 
Painters have gone blind staring at the sun.

At the center of a hurricane is an eye,
    in the midst of which one believes
the storm is over. A woman’s face can break,

fall as quickly as night. Sometimes, when I cry, 
    all of the eyes which are mine—painted, sketched, 
photographed—begin to shed blue tears. I catch them 

in my hands or with pots and pans. Or let them fall  
    as drifts of snow. I eat them by the fistful. 
When you look at me, in our most intimate

exchanges, you drape my nakedness
    in a fabric I neither sewed nor bought. You pin 
my beauty with a tack against the wall, or me against 

a four-poster bed: thighs splayed, nipples spilling 
    spoiled milk. In every light, the fact of history 
strips me blue. These are the conditions. The point is 

to go on. Drawing myself, as water from a well, 
    I can no longer believe in an innocence 
that was never mine. It is impossible to draw 

a self-portrait without the other women figured 
    onto my flesh like barnacles fixed to a gray whale. 
I am rough to touch. I am the yellow song

of a blue pain. The women and I walk 
    a tightrope of night. Our eyes adjust to growing 
darkness. We make of our vision: knowingness.

It’s love the women and I make. Love fashions 
    our sight. We drink from the Waters That Were 
Once Snow. We are quenched and we are thirsty.

 

September 2022 Poetry Feature: Ama Codjoe—from BLUEST NUDE

Related Posts

Image of a panini with tomato, cheese, and arugula, sliced in half.

You Must Like It All

MATHILDE MEROUANI
I put down my pen, and watched her. I had done that, every now and then, since we were six years old—stopped what I was doing to figure out something about her, to think about her face, or her hair, or the way she always laughed when I talked about death.

Chekhov Portrait

Looking for Anton Chekhov

A. MAURICIO RUIZ
I begin to walk on a red dirt road that meanders down, and in front of me, the vastness of the Crimean terrain opens up, splotches of yellow overgrown grass, young bushes and wildflowers, the quiet dark sea in the distance.

Top-down view of bouquets of various flowers, presumably for sale at a market.

Translation: Poems by Mireille Gansel

MIREILLE GANSEL
this morning while I was going to the docks looking for summer's last flowers at the florist's suddenly the look of this young boy with his mother her head scarf knotted like the Romani women who had offered us hospitality he and she hurrying both of them grasping black bags