NEA Literature Fellowships

Ama Codjoe

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Ama Codjoe

Photo by Jamie Harmon

(2019 - Poetry)

"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.

(originally published in Poem-a-Day by the Academy of American Poets)

Ama Codjoe was raised in Youngstown, Ohio with roots in Memphis and Accra. She has been awarded support from Cave Canem, Saltonstall, Jerome, and Rauschenberg foundations, Crosstown Arts, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook and the MacDowell Colony. Her recent poems have appeared in Gulf Coast online, Virginia Quarterly Review, the Georgia ReviewCallaloo, and elsewhere. Codjoe holds an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University where she was a Rona Jaffe Graduate Fellow. She is the recipient of a 2017 Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award and a 2018 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize from the Georgia Review, selected by Natasha Trethewey.

What a misconception: the heroic artist toiling away at her work, alone. As a poet, I have been surrounded by the mentorship of teachers, the encouragement of friends and family, the writings of other poets, living and dead. I feel honored to add to this list an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. In one sense, I must write alone—face myself, face the blank page—but in another my very presence in this room, at this desk, is a testament to the communities, institutions, and people who support me. A conspiracy of “yeses.” As an emerging writer, I am grateful beyond measure for this huge “yes” from the NEA. The NEA fellowship makes it possible for me to focus, study, risk, and grow. I look forward to sharing my efforts.