What They Carried With Them by Ellen June Wright

What They Carried With Them | Ellen June Wright

They carried everything one can bring 
             when one can bring nothing.

They carried everything they knew:
             languages and dialects, songs mothers taught them

as babes and early blues sang as prisoners of war,
             memories of their home’s terrain: mountains

and valleys, grasslands and vast lands,
             recipes for how to cook everything

they had ever eaten—recipes locked inside 
             of how to prepare these peas, that rice grain.

How to stew this meat and for how many hours.
             What they brought with them was everything

they were—not material. They brought their culture.
             The part that mattered: religions and mathematics

and knowledge of healing locked inside plant and bark,
             knowledge of the stars, memories of love and family,

children and grandchildren, parents left behind
             homes they would never see again.

What they brought with them was everything
             that one can carry when one is in fetters

the seeds of children to be born in exile.
             What they brought with them was everything

that one can bring when one can bring nothing
             but one’s genius for survival.


About the Author:

Ellen June Wright was born in England of West Indian parents and immigrated to the United States as a child. She taught high-school language arts in New Jersey for three decades before retiring. She has consulted on guides for three PBS poetry series. Her work was selected as The Missouri Review’s Poem of the Week in June 2021. She was a finalist in the Gulf Stream 2020 summer poetry contest and is a founding member of Poets of Color virtual poetry workshop and recently received four 2021 Pushcart Prize Nominations for poetry.