She stayed behind, the mother of my grandfathers,
not by choice, his or hers: theirs.
Singled out, she was, by soldiers
spared, they told her, by yaller hair, blue eyes
spoilt tho' she was, still no kind of fate
for a white woman, this trail
In the guile of their final night,
in the lull of the dark, they slept,
the mother of my grandfathers and her man,
her red earth man
his skin in rich opposition to her pale,
they lay entwined until he woke.
Stirred by the cadence of boot-heel crunch on gravel,
thethick man-scent rising in the air,
My grandfather’s father
crossed to the rough-hewn mantle for his flute,
the smoothed cedar flute,
which under my living fingers
delivers still the songs;
the haunting cedar songs,
gifts left behind by the Tree People
in the branch
he carved so long ago.
The mother of my grandfathers taught her son,
then her grandson, the songs he played that night.
In time, he taught his granddaughter,
child of pale hair and red earth skin.
Told her, too, the story:
Played me awake that night, she said,
with my fingers one by one on his;
played into them the cedar songs, one by one,
until the soldiers came.
As they broke down the door, as they dragged him away,
I faltered once, she said, but did not stop.
I released the cedar songs instead of tears
as they pushed my man from the dawn, from my arms
I played for him the songs,
for the son born after, for the grandson of my old age….
Now as grandmother I tell her words.
I, the girl blessed with Grandmother’s name and hair,
Grandfather’s red earth skin,
I play the sweet cedar songs,
the haunting holy gifts of the trees
he left behind.
First published in The People Who Stayed, Southeastern Indian Writing After Removal 2010, The University of Oklahoma. Also in a self published chapbook, “Cemetery Plots” 2006. Winner 2006 5th Annual Pleasanton Poetry Festival, Adult Poetry.
Copyright © Linda Boyden. All Rights Reserved.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Of mixed-blood Cherokee/Irish and French Canadian ancestries, Linda Boyden has spent most of her adult life leading children to literacy. From 1970-1997, she taught in primary grades, receiving her master’s in Gifted and Talented Education in 1992 from the University of Virginia, Charlottesville. In 1997, Linda decided to change careers and abandoned full-time teaching for full-time writing. Her first picture book, “The Blue Roses”, debuted in 2002. It was the recipient of Lee and Low Books’ first New Voices Award, the 2003 Paterson Prize, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers’ Book of the Year, Children’s Literature, 2002-2003, and was included on the prestigious CCBC (Cooperative Children’s Book Center) 2003 Choices list of recommended titles. In 2007 she wrote and illustrated her second picture book, “Powwow’s Coming” published by the University of New Mexico Press. She has also written and illustrated “Giveaways, an ABC of Loanwords from the Americas” published also by the University of New Mexico Press in 2010. In 2011, Giveaways was the recipient of three Finalist Awards from the International Book Awards.
Linda is a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers. She enjoys doing author visits and storytelling at schools and libraries as well as presenting workshops at writing conferences around the country. Visit her on the web at www.lindaboyden.com