Rigorous
Volume Two, Issue 3



Shirley Jones-Luke


She Carries the Culture on Her Back


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




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




Category D

Dance with this wildflower. Your attempts at satisfying me
leave me depressed. You're on a downward spiral. Pull up!
Pull up!

Each entry into my opening, does not go deep enough. The depth is a dilemma. Width is an issue, too. I need width. My legs are V-shaped. Drop the ball into the end zone. Score a victory.

Don't be mad. Sexual satisfaction is an art form. You're not an artist. You like to dabble. My canvas desires paint that will go beyond my surface. Not a drop of you.

Dance with this wildflower. Bring me up from the depths. Don't be afraid. I wish to be released from the doldrums. I daydream as I wait for you to cream. This wildflower deserves more.




Absence of Civility

Mouths undercover     apathy unleashed   communities unraveling
cities of spite    nation states unrest   bitter words     blast the air
people want     the old days     where respect was a complex concept
love thy neighbor      hate their color      segregate cultures    racial purity
horrors of slavery     now we're told to get over it     the Holocaust
becoming fiction
to generations   so far      removed
from that time    humanity's soul    on ice     too hard
exhausting       annoying         a world unmoored




We've been taught that Silence would Save Us, But it Won't

after Audre Lorde

We are more than fear, we women
of dawn & dusk, of sunshine & moonlight,
of stardust & shadow

Society expects so much from us
& so little of our true selves that
we are terrified reveal our natures

So many women are silent
even in today's world of
high-tech conversations

These women keep their
mouths shut & their minds
closed off from everything

Fear becomes silence,
a viral silence, because that's all we
know & that's all that's expected

Silence cannot save us, too many
cries go unheard, too many screams
go unchecked, too many

We women must release
our words into the world,
our silence hurts us

Only our words can save us


Shirley Jones-Luke: "I am a poet and a writer of color. I live in Boston, Massachusetts. I hve an MA from UMass Boston and an MFA from Emerson College. My work has appeared in Adanna, Deluge, Longleaf Review and The Offbeat. I will be a participant at VONA and at Tin House this summer."




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