I know tongues of fire as tall as men,
autumn sap, red panties,
a stack of sparklers lit, riotous laughter,
a field of poppies, circus acts.
I know mistakes: how fire tastes.
I keep a scarlet dress for when day skirts
the hill with its hem and ladybugs
cover the bedroom ceiling.
Tomatoes split like my bottom lip
and a crab apple tree flowers.
It’s only what hasn’t burned: a struck
match too short to consume more
than itself, a strong wind quieted
like a tantrum, the ends
of my untamed hair.
I arrive doused in night. A paper
crown atop my head. I gesture
to a fuchsia star, to a volcano
whose lava swarms like locusts,
to a castle with candles in every window.
I am pretending to be tended to—
I know breath and am not snuffed out.
Someone bring me a glass of water,
somebody please hold my cloak. In the end
there’s a flame so near I’m afraid to open
my eyes. I’m afraid to close them.
There are ashes licking my tongue
and a scar on my right thigh where I burned
myself as a girl. Feet forward, I tilt back
my head, bowing to what’s behind.
Art by Maggie Nowinski.
Ama Codjoe was raised in Youngstown, Ohio with roots in Memphis and Accra. She has been awarded support from Saltonstall Foundation, Cave Canem Foundation, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, and MacDowell Colony. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Narrative, Four Way Review, Georgia Review, Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She is a two-time Pushcart nominee and 2017 Rona Jaffe Writer’s Award recipient.