I am, from my naive youth, a tarnished wooden floor, accumulating dust & debris from years of abuse. Unclean. A thing ignored. I’m shadowed & dull from neglectful origins, claiming parentage but behaving in name only. The law doesn’t notice when the child is Black, their sad eyes, brown, & their zip code, poor. I walked the streets full of long expectations and old trees, knowing already what my future holds. Leaves with their many secret memories. Bark carries the stories of those who came before me, my people & my people’s people, going as far back as a red lined horizon. The ocean full of our blood. The scent of water like trade routes. A girl who looked like me, from a village that celebrates my birth, strains against chains meant to restrict her body. But I know her spirit, unrestrained. I wish I were more like her. She survived. I struggle. I know no other name to call myself: awkward, bookish, nerdy—a mess among my brown-skinned brethren. I move through this world as an uncertain drumbeat, steady then unsteady, rhythmic then off. My children carry my name. But their own sweet beat—only the roots know.
Shirley Jones-Luke is a poet and a writer. Ms. Luke lives in Boston, Mass. She has an MFA from Emerson College. Shirley’s poems are observational snapshots of culture, race, and society. Her work earned her spots at various workshops across the country.