Heaven as Olympic Spa

Ama Codjoe

Koreatown, Los Angeles

Gwendolyn Brooks stood stark naked.I stared into her bespectacled eyes.Ms. Brooks showed me howto tend to myself by scrubbing dead skinwith a coarse wash cloth, rinsingthe body's detritus down a common drain.My flesh was taut, loose,and dying. Even in paradise I was dying.At first, this surprised me. Oh, the capsizedboat of the body, Wanda Coleman sighed.We keep sailing, even when we believewe're ashore. Coleman drifted to sleepon the heated jade floor. Claspingmy spa-provided robe, I lay on my sidebeside her. Do the deaddream? I wondered to myself.Wrong question, Coleman muttered.I remembered sleeping beside my mother,touching her nightgown lightly,as if a gesture could restore the cordthat, in the beginning, tethered us. As ifI smelled her death in the satin scarfkeeping the plastic curlers in place,or in the Vaseline glossing her arms.In childhood, I pined for my motherthough she was there.Here, in the afterlife, I had no mindto search for her. I was freedfrom a loss that haunted meeven before it occurred.Gwendolyn Brooks hummed a wordlesssong that stripped me of all longing.I untied the robe's stiff beltand walked amongst the nude women,my skin brushed smooth and silent.I was ordinary and motherless.Because I was not alone,my nakedness felt unremarkable.I didn't miss my mother—I didn't miss missing her.

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photo of Ama Codjoe

Ama Codjoe is the author of Bluest Nude and Blood of the Air, winner of the Drinking Gourd Chapbook Poetry Prize. She has been awarded support from Cave Canem, Robert Rauschenberg, and Saltonstall foundations as well as from Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hawthornden, Hedgebrook, Yaddo, and MacDowell. Her recent poems have appeared in the Atlantic, the Nation, the Best American Poetry series, and elsewhere. Among other honors, Codjoe has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council/New York Foundation of the Arts, and the Jerome Foundation.

Cover of Bluest Nude

Minneapolis, Minnesota

“In this frequently gripping debut, Codjoe offers precisely crafted poems dealing with desire, memory, art, and ancestry.”
Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Fiercely intelligent and both emotionally and formally rich.”
Library Journal

"The hotly burning poems in Codjoe’s debut collection collapse themes of color and body into a lyrical supernova.”
Booklist, starred review

"Bluest Nude is a heady mix of ekphrastic and archival poems…Codjoe conjures the unmistakable textures of Black Americana."
—Layla Benitez-James, Poetry Foundation

"How beautifully seen, tended, and rendered are our many Black lives under this poet's exquisite gaze. In appetite and loss, rage and praise, what animates these poems is a profound cherishing, an abiding (and yet at every turn surprising) love rushing out from the lush wilderness of Ama Codjoe's rapturous imagination. Bluest Nude is an ecstatic encounter."
—Tracy K. Smith

"Sensual, sound-driven, and brimming with a necessary truth, the poems in Bluest Nude are pulsating with both grief and beauty. Wrought out of resurrection and reclaiming, these brilliant poems honor the mystery and legacy of the body. Codjoe has written a true triumph of a debut that feels urgent and deeply human."
—Ada Limon

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