by Ama Codjoe
He had a caribou’s face. Once he let me
lick the sadness there. It tasted of salt
and moss-covered rocks. He grew the beard
of a mountain goat. He scaled the face
of a mountain. Lying beside him, I stared
into the face of faceless waters whose velvet
antlers cradled us. He wore a bison’s
face. Sometimes he wallowed in the dust,
tossing his head from side to side,
wearing deep grooves into the braided
rug. Mornings, he refused to betray
his dreams. He had an antelope’s face—I could
go on like this. I liked how he led me, almost
a shove, how he kissed me—mercy—how I
kissed him back: my back against the foyer
wall. Sometimes we called to each other
like birds. It wasn’t ritual—how can I
explain—he laced his fingers, made his knees
a ladder. I braced myself on his backward horns.
I climbed him then, into the tree.
In the end, we were delivered back
to the strange mud from which we crawled.
The bed gave us back, unastonished,
our aching, separate bodies.
This is skin, it told us. Skin, I wrote.
I would commit its meaning to memory.
A football player slaps the butt
of a passing girl. She turns
to face a silvered hand dangling
from each player’s wrist: windless
chimes. Under their helmets,
the teammates wear the same blank face—
can I tell you I wanted them all?
In the beginning, there was blood or the threat
of blood. Formed from clay, we sought a fire
that could finish us. We sewed a garland
of marigolds. We ate good blossoms whole.
He takes his coffee with cream
and sugar; she takes it black.
She scans her wardrobe
for a dress. They respond to emails
and tidy their desks. At 4 AM,
the garbage truck jostles her awake. He sleeps best
on his side, on his back,
on his belly. He calls her lady. Though before she’d wince
at this term of endearment, she hears the word babe
slip out of her.
It slips out of her mouth . . . His eyes
are tired. She has bags under her eyes. She waters
the cactus in a slip. The sky
turns stormy. He forgets the umbrella. She wants
to storm out. He believes she’ll leave. He forgets
to call. She calls him a name. She takes it
back . . . He takes it black, no
sugar. He’s confused. He wants a baby. She
winces. They rub their eyes. It was a slip. A mistake.
He packs his bags. She irons the sky-blue
dress. She can’t stand his silences. The way he slips
in and out of her. The phone was on silent.
The ringer was off. She removes the ring
from the tub . . . He sleeps
on the couch, on his side. The sky
is a bath of coffee grounds. Her face is full
of clouds. His eye waters. Somewhere
near a marsh there’s a starling roosting.
I’m saying the middle
was filled with the end.
Ama Codjoe is the author of Blood of the Air, winner of the eighth annual Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize, forthcoming from Northwestern University Press in April 2020. She has been awarded support from Cave Canem, Jerome, Robert Rauschenberg, and Saltonstall foundations, as well as from Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Crosstown Arts, Hedgebrook, and the MacDowell Colony. Her recent poems have appeared or are forthcoming in The Common, The Massachusetts Review, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. Codjoe is the recipient of a 2017 Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award, The Georgia Review’s 2018 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize, a 2019 DISQUIET Literary Prize, and a 2019 NEA Literature Fellowship.