Jacqueline Johnson

Jacqueline Johnson


In the still of a Dominican night
eighty-six left home
paid four hundred and fifty dollars each
to steal away to Puerto Rico.

You all share reconstructed freedom dream:
more work, opportunity and yes,
swift passage to America.
Or was it early dawn when you left your baby?

In the beginning no one noticed
or cared about your breasts leaking for want of suck.
No one noticed your pain,
blouse sticky with dripping milk.

Men calculate time in their own terms.
Said “bring food for two and half days”.
No one was prepared for an engine breakdown.
Your captain with a boat so badly made,

it had no radio. No way to
put on a life preserver, swim to shore.
Not one dingy to detach and row
back home. Nothing at all to save anyone.

Candy, sardines and soda gone.
Men and women sick from drinking sea water.
Like being in the bottom of slave boat’s hull.
Stench of dysentery, and the body’s business,

lips cracked, breasts still leaking,
a rosary between them gathering heat in the sun.
Within a day the old ones begin to die.
The young throw themselves into ocean.

Two of you have left your four and six month babies.
One of you just nineteen bares her breasts
becoming a Madonna to strangers.
Men kneel like sinners to drink baby’s milk.

Another nurses so many the life force leaves her
a woman marked by teeth and hunger.
You refuse to give suck to grown man lips.
Your blouse wet with milk and defiance.

Perhaps it was the misery of a stalled boat,
cruelty of a missing captain safe on a different vessel,
that inspired three men to ambush and
throw you into the Caribbean sea.

The women left forced to give suck and feed.
Part nymph-part human.
Their brown body’s sacrifice
forgotten among the waves.