after Romare Bearden’s Patchwork Quilt (1969)

My back is turned from him again,
but this time I’m not hunched
over the quilt—his rough thumbs
gripping my waist—I’m standing
in the middle of a room constructed
with pencil, adhesive, and paper.
One foot in the basin, I will scrub
his cigarette hands and yellow eyes
off my skin. I will clean my sex
and start again. Another will come
and I’ll forget the coat hung gently
on the hook—different than the way
he took me. He shook like a startled
fish caught in a great blue heron’s beak.
Yes, a woman of my kind
has seen the sea. The first time, I gasped
at its glistening mouth.
Endlessly the waves replaced themselves.
I launder my nakedness like a uniform
with water from the pitcher.
Soon another will arrive who I will
wash away. There is a man who dares
to face me, he considers
every angle. He built my form
with precise lines and foraged scraps
of brown. From the harsh shape
my elbow makes, the builder knows
this is a portrait of work,
not pleasure. I love how softly
he touches me, though all I want
is to be left, to spend a morning in bed
alone with the images of dream.

Ama Codjoe