Lotioning My Mother’s Back

Because she lives alone and my hands reach

where hers can’t, she asks of me this favor.


It is narrow and soft, my mother’s back.

When I massage in small circles, my mother


circles her own mother, who is made

of whatever makes a shadow thin


and ungraspable. She wants to touch her.

The bones under my mother’s skin—ribcage,


scapula, and spine—feel like sharp winter rain.

Between the clouds, I see a patch of sky, glimpse


my aging body: moles like a flicker

of paint, undersides of half-covered breasts,


patches of eczema my fingers soothe

with heavy cream. Is this what laying on of hands


means? Once my mother touched a garment

and said, full of an awe full of sadness,


She touched this, her skin was inside of this.

My mother’s back shines


like the hands I wipe on the towel’s face.

Weren’t miracles always beginning this way?


Ama Codjoe was raised in Youngstown, Ohio, with roots in Memphis and Accra. She has been awarded support from the Cave Canem, Saltonstall, Jerome, and Robert Rauschenberg foundations, and also from Crosstown Arts, Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop, Hedgebrook, and the MacDowell Colony. Codjoe’s recent poems have appeared in Gulf Coast Online, Virginia Quarterly Review, and Callaloo, and she is the recipient of a 2017 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award as well as GR’s 2018 Loraine Williams Poetry Prize, judged by Natasha Trethewey.