Shirley Jones-Luke

There’s No Luxury in Poverty


My family was poor   government cheese     free box of food for Thanksgiving   sleeping on a cot until I was in my twenties    couldn’t afford a bed    roaches & rats as roommates   emergency room visits drained limited funds   doctor or medicine or rent or food    going out was a treat movies or dinner   could only have one   no pets   barely could feed ourselves   new clothes only on birthdays or back to school       don’t ask for too much         mama didn’t have it like that           don’t beg     don’t envy what others had    even if they rubbed it your face  mama was a proud woman      a product of a different era   she knew how to make do with what she had                 we learned from her how to make a dollar out of fifteen centers   even when we went to beg hungry   tomorrow held the promise of something better   we just had to hold on



White Knives, Blue Tears & Red Whips


The whips fed on the blood of my forefather’s backs. Soaked it up like needed sustenance, leaving the drops for the soil


We cried into the sea, bodies floating there like black buoys bobbing atop the waves, the ships they leapt from sailing on


The moon revealed escape attempts. Brown bodies shining like dark stars in the light. Hounds at their heels.


Our people fought in wars & were used as shields for white bodies, sacrificing themselves in the hopes of helping their families back home


We have a history of sacrifice & of forgiving. It may gain us a special place in Heaven but for now, we suffer a Hell on Earth




Through the ribbon of veins   I seek my cellular relevancy   my DNA   an exact science            the essence of me   an elusive soul   an incomplete marker of my actual self   a form beyond the physical     I am damaged & ignore it    I need repair     like a drone     hovering in a broken sky    the tools to fix me    far from here



Response to the Ode to the Happy Negro Hugging the Flag

after Anais Duplan & Robert Colescott


The pulpit turned me away

rejected I was rejected rejected


They would not let me look for you

in their holy sanctuary, searching


for you for you for myself in you

gone from the pulpit into the white light


God is    God is  what is God?

where is he? where is she?


black lash against my black body

my arms are up  up from the concrete


Base holding the pole, finding you

there in repose black repose I can’t


look away even as the lash bloodies

my hands my arms my black body


in repose as the gray concrete turns

red, you are still in repose such stately


repose, your black legs straddle

the white pole like a lover


in the heat of a summer’s night

black lips touching black bodies sweating


in repose I still reach for you, fighting

the lash thirsty for my black skin


as the flag waves I see stars I see stars

my blood stripes on the concrete



Shirley Jones-Luke is a poet and a writer from Boston, Mass. Ms. Luke has an MFA from Emerson College. Her work examines the many forms of trauma experienced by the Black body. Shirley was a 2018 participant at VONA, Tin House and Breadloaf Writer’s Conference.

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