My Nothings

Ama Codjoe
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.

More by Ama Codjoe

Hunger

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.

Related Poems

Lullaby in Blue

   The child takes her first journey
through the inner blue world of her mother's body,
   blue veins, blue eyes, frail petal lids.

   Beyond that unborn brackish world so deep
it will be felt forever as longing, a dream
   of blue notes plucked from memory's guitar,

   the wind blows indigo shadows under streetlights,
clouds crowd the moon and bear down on the limbs
   of a blue spruce. The child's head appears—

   midnight pond, weedy and glistening—
draws back, reluctant to leave that first home.  
   Blue catch in the mother's throat,

   ferocious bruise of a growl, and out slides
the iridescent body—fish-slippery
   in her father's hands, plucked from water

   into such thin densities of air,
her arms and tiny hands stutter and flail,
   till he places her on her mother's body,

   then cuts the smoky cord, releasing her
into this world, its cold harbor below
   where a blue caul of shrink-wrap covers

   each boat gestating on the winter shore.
Child, the world comes in twos, above and below,
   visible and unseen. Inside your mother's croon

   there's the hum of an old man tapping his foot
on a porch floor, his instrument made from one
   string nailed to a wall, as if anything

   can be turned into song, always what is
and what is longed for. Against the window
   the electric blue of cop lights signals

   somebody's bad news, and a lone man walks
through the street, his guitar sealed in dark plush.
   Child, from this world now you will draw your breath

   and let out your moth flutter of blue sighs.
Now your mother will listen for each one,
   alert enough to hear snow starting to flake

   from the sky, bay water beginning to freeze.
Sleep now, little shadow, as your first world
   still flickers across your face, that other side

   where all was given and nothing desired.
Soon enough you'll want milk, want faces, hands,
   heartbeats and voices singing in your ear.

   Soon the world will amaze you, and you
will give back its bird-warble, its dove call,
   singing that blue note which deepens the song,

   that longing for what no one can recall,
your small night cry roused from the wholeness
   you carry into this broken world.