A POEM FOR SAMUEL AND KATIE ON THEIR WEDDING DAY
By JoJo Brooks Shifflett
Of everyone I have seen, It is you I want to see,
Of everything I have held, It is you I want to hold,
I am moved by the sound of your laughter,
I am amazed by the sight of you sleeping softly,
They tell me I am young, And this I know to be true,
But I also know, I shall ever only want and desire "my" you.
For "my" you is rare.
If you were a song, you'd be a symphony,
If you were a painting, you'd be a Rembrandt,
If you were a season, you' d be the Spring.
But you are the rarest of gentle hearts,
And shall forever wear my ring.
And the songbirds...they sing the score,
I love you like never before.
When you walk into a room, you move my heart.
I promise you today Love, My love will not betray you, dismay you, nor enslave you,
My Love, I hope my love shall set your love free,
Forever free to love only me.
For our love has grown into one single soul inhabiting two bodies,
And I promise you with complete integrity,
That you shall remain you and I shall remain me,
But through the years, with hair of grey, your me and my me shall indeed become WE.
By JoJo Brooks Shifflett
May you find truth and true beauty in this last piece of your journey,
May the ancestors gather to meet you,
May the water flow cool, crisp and clear,
In the land that knows no parting,
May the grounds be soft and green and the hunting be good,
in the land that knows no parting,
I knew when we parted, we would never meet again in this world, but
Someday we will meet again and all I shall want is to hold your hand.
Until then, I shall remember the sad eyes that made a movement and reveled in the revolution...
love always, your JoJo
by JoJo Brooks Shifflett
And in the Winter of life, Hold on.
Hold on to you, Not who you think you should have been.
Hold on to what you know to be good, if it be but a bit of oatmeal and honey,
or if it be a bit of earth that warms you or a face that makes you smile.
Hold on to these things that made you, you.
Hold on to what you must now do,
Even if it means traveling far away.
Hold on to life,
When it is easier to just let go.
Hold on to my hand,
No matter the distance between us.
For my dear one, you still hold my heart,
though we be far, so far apart.
You Want One...
You only think you want someone to save you.
What you really want is that one who will kiss your scars and hold you on those lonely nights when you can catch your tears in a jar.
You want one who will remind you of your innate beauty and provoke your smile and laughter.
You want one to hold your hand until you find your balance again.
You want one who reminds you to breath in and out when fear of tomorrow drives you back to bed.
Sister, you want what you do not need...You want one to show you how to save you.
But my sweet sister, I promise you, you possess all required to save you.
Trust yourself...you are amazing as you shine in all your strength.
The Light They Cannot See
by JoJo Brooks Shifflett
I love to watch her cross the room at elite functions she seldom attends. She is more than beauty, she is a piece of art, born to make you feel her presence as opposed to merely seeing it.
With style and class, she compliments her critics and shakes the hands of the gatekeepers she knows hold her back. I watch as the eyes of powerful men secretly gaze upon her as she floats effortlessly past them with a subtle nod of her head.
I watch women give her stares, not smiles and I wish they knew, their jealousy of her is misplaced. She knows pain. She knows rejection....It is her many painful life experiences that give her beauty its edge...She molded the tears of her youth into diamonds and the many bequiling lies into rare rubies...now in her prime, I watch her wear them and shine with confidence. After a brief hour, I observe as she becomes bored and leaves alone and I know it is her choice.
She has found her power, I think as she gracefully exits the room.
Once young and naive and smart, she has evolved into the mysterious and profound lady she was always destined to become. I thought as she left through the clear glass doors, Is she lightning or the lighthouse? For surely her light shows brightest in life's storms.
Please know, I HEAR you. I am now 53. I grew up IN THE CHAOS of the infancy of the Tuscarora movement v. Lumbee establishment. Back then we were officially, The Hatteras Tuscarora Tribe. We marched with AIM and had the termination status of the 22 Robco Indians fed. recognized in 1936? reinstated through litigation. And we did it with the legal brilliance of a legal Aid attorney!!! Not some fancy high paid law firm from DC or Raleigh but a legal Aid attorney.
Too much turbulence leads to fear which leads to mistrust, especially in tight knit Indian Communities. Mistrust leads to accusations and assumptions among the Indian people themselves. next comes the even bolder inertia of name calling and the once powerful Indian tribes which were so very close to federal recognition were reduced to a tribe the Feds call a tribe with many factions...thus, we lost our power and the federal recognition and rights my grandfather, Mr. Henry Brooks snd his siblings along with Mr. Lawrence Maynor and Miss Vashti fought so strenuously to regain in the early 1970s were never used. Why? Because of inner tribal fighting, arguing and name calling. I no longer care who believes me, I know I speak the truth when I say I was THERE, in the front room of my granddaddy's ole house when the Eastern Carolina Indian Organization voted to petition the Sec. of Interior for recognition using the name Hatteras Tuscarora and why they rejected the name Lumbee.
I am so very sure those honorable, old Indian farmers never dreamed the Tuscarora Movement they marched and fought for would be so misunderstood and 46 years later, their people would still be fighting and arguing over a Tribal name!
There are so many tribes that are recognized under an "umbrella" name. That is how I feel about the name, Lumbee...It is a neutral word to encompass all Indians living in and around Robson County . Now of course, we have added blood quantum requirements and community ties which are necessary, in my opinion.
So my dear sister, I have observed a movement of negative "words" my entire life. Believe me, they do not build-up you nor break down me...they make us appear to be quarreling with one another...which the powers that be, just love and gives them reason to rejoice. For as long as we have divisive factions in our tribe they CAN tell us to get our own internal divisions settled before they federally recognize the Lumbee.
Please understand that I "get" how strongly my brothers and sisters who identify as Tuscarora feel. I was you...I was you from age 7 until I was around 47 years old. I was determined to remain loyal to my precious, beloved Granddaddy's dream of some day being a federally recog. Hatteras Tuscarora. I never had the benefit of having a LUMBEE card throughout my school years or career to legally qualify as a minority.
For years I claimed my Hatteras Tuscarora bloodline and felt to get a Lumbee card would be a betrayal to my elders who marched, fought, protested with AIM and even served time for their audacity to demand their civil rights as Indian people.
I was a skinny wisp of a girl marching with my family both in Robeson County and in Washington D.C. I was indoctrinated into the movement so my decision to apply for a Lumbee card was such a true struggle within my moral conscience. But I began to slowly realize, I would still have the same bloodlines no matter what the name on the card was. ..and I began to think of the many tribes I had visited with umbrella names such as CRIT, which stands for Colorado River Indian Tribe...and was comprised of at least 4 different tribes.
I realized we are ALL related to one another. We must Act accordingly. I also no longer recognized the anger and mean words spoken by Tuscarora people about the Lumbee which I saw in the press. I knew when I was but a girl why the Hatteras Tuscarora had issues with the LRDA...but after those fine well spoken warriors passed, the words just got uglier and more divisive.
I knew I had to follow the wa ha-ha-kwast....the good road.
I no longer pined for a name, I pined for a tribe, MY tribe and it had been there all along...the Lumbee Tribe. So I applied, got a card and promised myself and the Creator I would never say negative things for the purpose of provoking divisiveness.
Words are powerful creatures which take on a life of their own. They can be our allies or they can destroy us. Listen and think before you speak, do not be passive but neither be reactionary. Let us climb this mountain together my bold, beautiful sister.
WALKING WITH A THOUSAND ANCESTORS
Sleeping, dreaming, or someplace near that space of peace, I awaken & dwell on what I was told tonight.
Be still, I am the Creator. Walk with your head high & be happy, my worrier. Suddenly, I get a glimpse of hundreds of warriors walking behind me at various points in my life, and then they are gone.
Stop Fearing, the Creator tells me one last time. Embrace who you are, for you were made from the love of a thousand ancestors.
And when I feel the bumps of that bridge, I know...I am home.
by JoJo Brooks Shifflett
BEG NO ONE TO STAY
BY JoJo Brooks Shifflett
Beg no one to stay,
If he walks away,
Say what you need too,
but let the man walk away.
Beg him not to stay.
Then take your heart home.
Gain perspective, get strong, refresh.
Now my friend, despite trembling hands and scarred heart,
Begin to believe...
You are the rare rose,
You are the ideal Rembrandt could not capture on canvas,
You are the inspiration that moves the songbird to sing in the wee hours of the morning,
You are the muse of the poet and of the writer,
You are Cinderella becoming Cleopatra, who knew she was Queen of the Nile.
And next time a "he" walks away,
Let him stay away,
For you are Queen of all you choose to rule,
And your heart is a gift to be welcomed with arms wide open.
Say what you need to say,
But beg no one to stay.
HEALING THE WEARY
Sadness has caused me tears and depression tucked me into bed for a time. But not until my 53rd year did I meet the foe of weariness. I have found it to be a most worthy opponent with strength I never imagined. It has transformed the occasional crying at nights to weeping on the most lovely of Autumn days. It has turned daily troubles to burdens I cannot relinquish despite the smiles of those who love me.
Weariness, I have found is what is left in the path after the Hurricane. It is the unexpected demise of beloved places in the aftermath of the 100 year storm and it is the utter destruction of homes when a familiar river betrays its neighbors by flooding its banks. Or weariness can be something as simple as losing a dear friend. And so it is with me. As I await to hear news of him daily, the days have begun to weigh me down with this new foe. Although I have known grief, I know this is different. My humaness simply knows I have stumbled onto a briar patch of weariness and after several weeks, I just want to get out and go back home.
But not having known how I got here, and never being particularly good at directions, I know I am lost. After being lost for another week, I realize indeed, I am a lost lamb and only if the Shephard hears my cries, can he rescue me...but first, I must cry out to Him.
And so I do what I was taught since childhood. I imitate what I witnessed when I was but a slim wisp of a girl with eyes that saw all and ears that heard more than my grandma ever realized.
With weary soul and body burdened, I fall upon my knees, I weep tears that only my Creator understands and I utter sounds only He hears. I repeat the ritual more than once.
I am still and I wait in silence, and I believe against all logic that He hears me, JoJo, this unremarkable human that He loves for some unknown reason....And I know as long as I believe, He will show up....
I know not when, but He shall be on time.
So I shall bow before the Creator of All again and again ever hopefull that in the silence He will come and spend a while with me. He will lift me up and restore my joy in His time, not mine. Until then, He reminds me I was raised up to walk on stormy seas and that I can fly with wings of the eagle.
I have become restless of late, but He reminds me, Be Still, and know that I am God. And so I do.
And during my wait, He has already taught me two lessons...
Time is the most precious commodity He gives us, spend it wisely and with those you love. And Finally, The Creator has shown me that the soul can get weary just as the body can. It must be nourished with HIS words and His presence just as I feed my body.
So until He stops and His Spirit sits a while with me....His grace is sufficient. I always heard the elders say it, but it took weariness to teach me, it is so my friends, it is so...His grace is sufficient for me.
DIAMONDS IN THE SKY
By JoJo Brooks Shifflett
Don't close your eyes, Lumbee,
Don't miss a moment, for the love is free,
Look at the faces dear one, for they come from near and far,
They are the daughters and sons,
The descendants of who we are,
I walk upon pearls of sand,
I walk under diamonds in the sky,
It is the love of those now past,
Those who walked here long before I,
I can see the cotton aprons,
I can see the grey hair tucked neatly in a bun.
I walk under diamonds in the sky,
They shine so brightly,
They shine as the sun.
Never close your eyes dear,
Not when the spirits of past warriors are so near.
I saw your daddy today,
Sitting under an old shade tree,
I saw your mama too,
And in their faces, I saw you.
I saw the hesitation in their voices to speak to me,
I walked up, gave them a smile and spoke the magic words of the Lumbee.
I know your daughter,
I know your son,
You knew my grandparents,
Yes, I am that one.
Look closely, don't you remember me?
I know your people,
I know them well,
I even know your homeplace,
I have sat there a spell.
Then I see eyes aglow
I see that now they know,
I'm not a stranger,
I am one of them.
Although I am still me,
Now they see me as Lumbee.
They offer me a chair under the ole shadetree,,
I'm seeing faces aglow,
I'm seeing faces I know.
We're feeling time move sweet and slow,
As we talk of the past,
So many questions we answer but too many questions to ask.
And we laugh at the good,
But we do not cry for the past,
Today is not the time for tears,
Today is the day to smile and to laugh.
How is your boy? Did he finish his schooling? And how is your Mama getting along?
I tell them she is well and is now 82.
And just as a gospel group sings a song, I tell them I still miss Daddy, and despite the ten long years, I still grieve he is gone.
They both embrace me as they see my glow begin to fade,
We just sit there in silence as I feel them struggle for words of comfort to say.
I stand to signal I must now go,
And they stand to signal, it is alright,
They know. "Loss is hard, and you are never the same, but Lord it's been good to see you, and we understand your pain."
As I walk away slowly under diamonds of stars, I remember what I know, which is why I travel so far.
Lumbees gather once a year,
Rain or shine, laughter and tears,
It is a time to connect to our common past,
It has become a Lumbee tradition,
which I hope shall last.
A time to look behind,
A time to look ahead,
A time for all Lumbee kin,
To put away petty bitterness
To acknowledge we are all related,
And bring senseless rivals to an end.
I am seeing faces aglow,
I am seeing so many I know,
And as I walk slowly under Lumbee moonlight,
I know the Creator has made this night,
For I feel my grandma and my Pappy
Way down deep in my soul,
I feel the love of a hundred generations of Indians who survived in these swamps and grew food from sand, they had to plow deeper, to reach fertile land.
They built wooden shacks that became our homplaces, they built barns and churches in places,
They would otherwise not be,
Except for the tenacious brown hands of the warriors, the Lumbee.
As I walk towards my car I look and I see, the first college built for Indians in the Nation, and I stare in awe,
Whether Tuscarora, Lumbee or Cheraw,
We built this Scuffletown from nothing at all.
And the scenes of my young childhood,
I do not have to tell all.
Sweaty faces of cottonpickers
Tired twisted torsos of tobacco croppers
Bent backs over five gallon buckets
Throwing in cucumbers, peas and beans
Those fifty and older remember such
The brown hands of the pickers were the Indians who created all where I look around
It was these Indian warriors who built this now prosperous town.
Some were educated, others were farmers and we too had a militant Faction
Who traveled to D.C. and Raleigh and caused newsworthy action
But it took all the groups of warriors we had,
To cause change in Robeson County because our plight was sick and sad.
All the Indians were warriors and all played their role as they struck at the wind,
They started in wooden shacks, but they triumphed in the end.
As I get into my car to make my way home,
I close my eyes and try to imagine,
What if my best was a mule and wooden wagon?
I close them tighter and wonder what would I feel like to be told what stores I could shop in because my skin is brown?
What fountains I could drink water from in my own hometown?
A tear escapes my mind and falls upon my face,
I weep for the courage I am unsure I
I weep not for the past, I weep for my people today,
I wonder when we stopped helping one another, I wonder when we lost our way?
As I stand and wonder what made our elders more communal and giving,
A diamond in the sky whispers,
We always helped each other, because we were all Indian.
As we argue over small things like the name of our tribe,
Did we spend too much on the Powwow?
Should we have sent a delegation to
Washington D.C. or a flag to Standing Rock?
I wonder about those elders who worked in their neighbors fields for a dollar a day,
Would they shake their heads in frustration, what would they say?
Be good to one another,
Be generous with good words,
Say I hope you are well my brother,
And mean it in your core,
You shall start to feel the changes
You shall start to truly care more,
Remember we must continue to grow as a nation, the Lumbee Tribe,
For we walk under diamonds in the sky,
We carry pearls of wisdom,
In our hearts and in our minds,
Handed down through generations
Who knew how to grow a tribe.
Ignore petty battles,
Fight the big wars,
Be kind to your Lumbee neighbor,
For beside you, as your spirits one day fly,
he will soar with you,
A diamond in the sky.
When in a generation,
A little Lumbee cries,
You both will hear his tear,
You both shall hear him cry,
As he looks up to the past,
So far away in the sky,
And see you all shine as diamonds,
And asks you and your neighbor,
Oh ancestors, tell me WHY?
Back when we put in 'bacca, picked cucs, picked cotten and thought a trip to the station for an orange push-up or a moon-pie was a stop in a sweet serendipity shop, we swam in the Lumber River.
Those distant days came flashing by as I glimpsed Lumbee children enjoying the only Beach many will experience until they become old enough to earn there own way to that mysterious place an hour away called Myrtle Beach and which they all know exists but eludes Daddy and Mama's capabilities. I had to snap a picture as it has been so very many years since I saw such a scene. Made sick by factories that poured into Robeson County, her shores no longer laughed in the summers for the last 30 years.
I only hope once they discover the colorful grandeur of Myrtle Beach the children whom I saw that hot Carolina day shall never forget the coolness of their own river, the ole' Lumbee...let her shores never again be lonely, but always be filled with the innocent laughter of the Indian children from whom they get their name. Oh yeah...
WALKING WITH A THOUSAND ANCESTORS
Sleeping, dreaming, or someplace near that space of peace, I awaken and dwell on what I was told tonight.
Be still, I am the Creator. Walk with your head high and be happy, my worrier. Suddenly, I get a glimpse of hundreds of warriors walking behind me at various points in my life, and then they are gone.
Stop Fearing, the Creator tells me one last time. Embrace who you are....for you were made from the love of a thousand ancestors...
The Magic of Standing Rock
by JoJo Brooks Shifflett
I shall never forget the power of the moments at STANDING ROCK...The 12 days I spent there were overflowing with moments that literally transformed Indian boys into Native men and Native men into true warriors.
I knew as I watched Two Kettles walk across a frozen river at 10° below zero, I would in all likelihood, never again come as close to seeing the rawness of courage...It was a dark night and my eyes followed those 2 warriors I knew only as Two Kettles with my eyes until their bodies became silhouettes...I remember feeling ashamed I had not the courage those young braves possessed as they assured ME not to worry, that as long as I was giving all the bravery I had within me to stay behind and wait upon them to return, that I must be at peace with myself and allow them to finish the dark journey across a frozen river and up an exposed riverbank without me.
I admit, their words eased my guilt but the solemness of the moments before the two very young warriors left the safety of my warm rented car was thick and heavy and without pomp or ceremony.
I was worried for their safety as I had attempted to talk them out of their mission to retrieve a flag that was not even their own tribal flag.
You see I had done something I had not ever done...I had talked two people into something and I could NOT talk them out of it...I had convinced Two Kettles that the tattered piece of cloth was more than just another tribal flag. It was a symbol of my nation's alliance with them. To allow the feds to bulldoze it and dispose of it as trash I argued, was erasing some, even if just a small sum of my tribe's history as well as their tribe's history and the Miracle of Standing Rock!
You must help me save it, I told them, I am a stranger here...I do not know my way around your lands.
They said little at first...and then they spoke...
They call you the fancy lady, they call you A Lumbee Gershom... But they also call you the friend of Uncle Dennis. So we trust you. And we are now concerned...we are concerned if we say no, that you may ask others who will lead you into danger...So Lumbee JoJo, You spoke of this flag and of history..Can you promise us it will hang in a place where people in your lands in the East will see it? We are NOT afraid of the frozen river, we know her well, that is why we fight to protect her, she has taken care of us...but we respect her power too...she knows greed. We will not step onto her if you want the flag for greed. We want the world to know what happened here! Can you promise us that Lumbee JoJo? Can you promise us you want the flag only to tell her story? Uncle Dennis said your grandfather marched with him and fought with him in Washington D.C.. He said your clothes may be fancy but your words are plain. So tell us Lumbee JoJo, why are you here? Why did you come to Standing Rock?
Before I could think of a truly articulate, persuasive statement, the truth in all her simplicity spilled out of me...
I wanted to see history.
The stocky, shorter one finally spoke. We can't even get them to show what is happening to us on mainstream news! So now you saw some history.. how will getting your flag back help us?
I just sat there at the casino bar beside them, listening NOT to anger but hearing FRUSTRATION. I knew the words they did not say, my heart hurt as one looked down at the casino bar before us and shook his head as he exhaled so deeply we all heard him sigh.
And then one of those magic moments that defined Standing Rock happened. I told them how far I felt from home when I arrived at the camp..And then I looked up and right at the entrance to Camp OCETI SAKOWIN was my tribal flag. I knew it was a sign I did the right thing by coming here.
And from there we began talking of signs and symbols. I told them I believed that every single tribal flag that flew at Standing Rock was a piece of history and must be preserved.
We cannot allow the feds to trash them. Each one now is the centerpiece of a great journey it went on. I want to take my tribal flag home, i said as straightforward as I could.
The tall one made the offer... OK JoJo, If we help you get the flag back, you give your word it will go into a museum? It must be placed in a place where it can tell the story...You will do this?
I promised it. I gave my word I would do all in my power to have it displayed in a museum back East where it would spark discussion of Standing Rock.
So in the light of day, we agreed.... We would retrieve the Lumbee flag under cover of night...and armed guards. Yes, that part...the part about armed guards they skimmed over... was the part I could not let go of.
I was still dwelling on it as we were smudged that night before our short but potentially dangerous journey, and I was obsessed with it as I handed them all they had asked for, two flashlights, a plastic bag, a map and a ride to and from the decided drop off point.
As I handed them the items I was shivering and my teeth chattered so hard I thought I would chip a tooth. Just wait till before dawn, they told me...If we are not back before dawn, you leave...
I looked at them and began to cry...This is wrong.. Not all this for a piece of cloth... please, come back to the hotel with me now...
The taller one grabbed my arm....Hey now, JoJo, we are not doing this just for you...Heck no!! We are doing this to show them they CANNOT erase us...they cannot bulldoze history...They cannot bulldoze Standing Rock.
Do not forget your own words...That flag symbolized our alliance, sister. Your people and my people...we gathered once at Standing Rock.
As I watched them disappear into the night, I found the courage to wait alone in the dark Dakota night. The courage came in a single moment. A moment that was as brief as it was momentous...
And as with so many things that happened at Standing Rock, It is not time to tell the rest of the story...yet.
by JoJo Brooks Shifflett