When I rose into the cradle
of my mother’s mind, she was but
a girl, fighting her sisters
over a flimsy doll. It’s easy
to forget how noiseless I could be
spying from behind my mother’s eyes
as her mother, bulging with a baby,
a real-life Tiny Tears, eclipsed
the doorway with a moon. We all
fell silent. My mother soothed the torn
rag against her chest and caressed
its stringy hair. Even before the divergence
of girl from woman, woman from mother,
I was there: quiet as a vein, quick
as hot, brimming tears. In the decades
before my birthday, years before
my mother’s first blood, I was already
prized. Hers was a hunger
that mattered, though sometimes
she forgot and I dreamed the dream
of orange trees then startled awake
days or hours later. I could’ve been
almost anyone. Before I was a daughter,
I was a son, honeycomb clenching
the O of my mouth. I was a mother—
my own—nursing a beginning.

More by Ama Codjoe

My Nothings

You, who have bowed your head, shed
another season of antlers at my feet, for years

you fall asleep to the lullabies of dolls,
cotton-stuffed and frayed, ears damp with sleep

and saliva, scalps knotted with yarn, milk-breath,
and yawns. Birth is a torn ticket stub, a sugar

cone wrapped in a paper sleeve, the blackest
ice. It has been called irretrievable, a foreign

coin, the moon’s slip, showing, a pair
of new shoes rubbing raw your heel.

I lose the back of my earring and bend
the metal in such a way as to keep it

fastened to me. In the universe where we are
strangers, you kick with fury, impatient

as grass. I have eaten all your names.
In this garden you are blue ink, baseball cap

wishbone, pulled teeth, wet sand, hourglass.
There are locks of your hair in the robin’s nest

and clogging the shower drain. You, who are
covered in feathers, who have witnessed birth

give birth to death and watched death suck
her purple nipple. You long for a mother

like death’s mother, want to nurse until drunk
you dream of minnows swimming

through your ears—their iridescence causing
you to blink, your arms twitching.

Even while you sleep I feed you.

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Origin Story

Lake Michigan dreamed me, I think,
in the winter of 1969, its long currents
combing shipwrecks and where

was my mama, then? (She was wearing
a red muumuu.) And where was my father,
then? (He was fishing for steelhead.)

No one dreamed you, stupid girl, the seagull
said — you came straight from the belly
of your granddad’s school mascot
.

You wore plaid skirts and bruised your knees
and lived across the street from the motorcycle shop
.
I remember dropping dimes in the jukebox;

I remember embers in the sand. Once I saw God
himself — a small boy running across the RV park
with a toy sword in his hand. I dreamed

we all lay down on the beach and the dunes
moved over our bodies. It took
ten thousand years of whispering,

but we finally slept. And before that?
the seagull asked. Before that I found comfort
in the fur of animals and the movement

of a boat on the water. I was warm
in my mother’s arms. Before that I was
a sonic boom over Wisconsin, and before that, fire.