She Carries the Culture on Her Back

Shirley Jones-Luke


Like Helen, you've launched a thousand ships    some of those ships 

carried your people away from the continent     away from you

their backs were branded        the mark appeared on your back

a true stain   too great a burden to bear     you tried to shrug it off

but it remained on your back       like a shadow following your body


A thousand ships    carrying your people    you watched    from the

brush    tears streaming down your face    flowing into the ocean

bitter water   your people begged for a drink on those ships   a drop

their captors would hardly give them     a sip    so many died   

of thirst       their bodies thrown into the undrinkable sea


You run across the sandy shore    your feet burning    your heart breaking    your lungs straining     

you wade into the water   waist

deep     you want to reach a ship   to join    your people    a thousand ships     & you cannot board

any     the ships become dots on the horizon    swallowing them into the sunset


You carry the culture on your back    You carry the culture in your heart  

You carry the culture in your womb   You carry the culture in your soul   

for generations after    the culture remains   in your eyes

on your lips   in your mind     You are the culture     a thousand ships

become a million souls        seeking you


Shirley Jones-Luke is a poet and a writer. Ms. Luke lives in Boston, Mass. and is a native of Dorchester. She has an MFA from Emerson College. Her work has appeared in Adanna, Deluge, Fire Poetry, and Vox Poetica. Shirley will be a participant at VONA and Tin House this summer.