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INDIAN POEMS AND INDIAN RELATED POEMS
BY LEW BARTON from his Rhythm A Little
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Indian poems and Indian related poems by Lew Barton, recited by Lew
Barton. The following is from my book, Rhythm A Little Lumbee, Amarand
Good Will Publications, Hollister, North Carolina, 1961.
THE LUMBEE TRAIL
Blue, shimmering shadows softly fall on evening strollers, one and all,
who come from near and far to call on Lumbee Cove. Through cypress
branches softly fed, the moonlight etches me a bed of grass beside the
path that led down Lumbee trail. Here peace and quiet reign supreme.
Reality becomes a dream and calm rides in on each moonbeam o'er Lumbee
trail. .Both young and old discard their cares and shed the days humdrum
affairs when they drift in by threes of a pair down Lumbee trail. A
cloud drifts by. Each voice is hushed. That cloud against the cypress
brushed, and see that moon? I'd swore it blushed o'er Lumbee trail. As
time wears on the people go, the couples, singles, groups, and Oh, the horse
and dog from far below the Lumbee trail. Enchanted shrine, it's almost
odd that stretched upon this scented sod the soul just seems to soar to
God o'er Lumbee Trail. I think at last when I am dead where moonlight
bathed this grassed bed in white-like bed clothes gently spread by
Lumbee trail. But I should like my grave to be, marked off where through
that cypress tree the moonlight spread my bed for me by Lumbee trail.
Rhythm A Little Lumbee, Page 12. Here is a portrait of my home town, Pem-
broke, North Carolina, educational and cultural center of the Lumbee Indians.
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And I think it is pretty accurately descriptive, even if I do say so my-
WAY DOWN PEMBROKE WAY
Gladiolus weigh with blossoms, children laugh and play, persimmon trees
are hung with possums, way down Pembroke Way. Shake:my hand and keep
on squeezing. Park your heart and stay. Folks all specialize in
pleasing, way down Pembroke Way. I feel mighty close to heaven when
I see that sign, Miles to Pembroke, only seven. Take me there on time.
There's a sweet som body waiting. Glad I'm home today. Soon there'll
be some celebrating way down Pembroke Way.
Rhythm A Little Lumbee, Page 21. Also included in,The Most: Ironic Story
in American History. What is the plight of the American Indian, generally?
Well, here's what it looked like to me in 1961.
THE AMERICAN INDIAN
I graced the corner cigar store, a copper cent in use no more, a nickel
out of date and old. Yet mine was once the land of gold. A reservation,
small and bare, is all the land today I share. My sixteen million square
miles went just like that puny, copper cent. The western playwrites play
me up as villian grand or sneaky pup. Who writes today are made of
/#3d rr 'on a welcome mat. They like to write of Custard's Stand,of
scalping, war hoops, and "the savage ways of savage men" but
who remembers their black sin. No one believes what John Smith said, how
Pocahontas saved his head, or that I first fought bow to gun, and even
then I sometimes won. Yes, once on foot I faced the band of mounted men
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who sought my land. Three hundred plants and more I tamed for man, but
they are seldom named. Today we smoke. The credit goes to Walter
Raleigh, he who chose to learn "how good a pipe can be" but Raleigh's
pipe first came from me. I fed the Englishmen who came to take my land
in England's name. The very land on which we tread, I fathered it could
well be said. And yet alas I am denied my last possession, my fierce
pride. My people fought sometimes, but well. They lost like men and
took their hell. How many other setis have fought against this country
by blood bought? They were forgiven, one by one, to live again beneath
the sun. Tis sad but true as truth can be. There's no forgiveness
here for me.
Rhythm A Little Lumbee, Page 22. Of this poem Jerry Bledsoe, writing
in the Greensboro Sunday News, in his column, Meandering, in the latter
part of November or the first part of December, 1971, following inception
of the drive to save said, "Lew Barton is no retiring poet."
Consider this poem. What bothered me even more than the things said
about the American Indians were the things left unsaid. In this connec-
tion I wrote the following poem.
Signfic-f "Q-miSpn3a andl rn.-s idP d S-LtorieS Oh,listen to the silence,
to the silence so profound, and tell me now if you can how mere silence
emits sound. Then listen to omissions, to omissions that surround the
story of, the glory of this hallowed, blood bought crown. Conspicuous
that silence, like the problems left unsolved. Not so the nagging
conscience that cries out, "Be thou absolved". Oh, listen to the
silence that surrounds these faded bones, as though one word back then
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heard would melt those hearts and stones.
Rhythm A Little Lumbee, Page 14. But it was not just a matter of omissions,
there was also the other side, the matter of the stereotype, for example,
the American stereotype of the American Indian was so utterly ridiculous
that I just had to write the following poem. It's called, Some Popular
Misconceptions of the American Indians.
SOME POPULAR MISCONCEPTIONS OF THE AMERICAN INDIANS
How. How. We pow wow. This my papoose, twelve moons now. Ugg. Ugg.
How he ran. Call him Big Chief Rain in Pants. Who squaw? Shehema. She
like Go squaw. Fetch'em mug. Real fire water.
Fill'em mug. Who me? What I do, just sit staring. Bearcats do. Sit,
sit, all day long. Reservation, can't go wrong. Just look picturesque.
Sign'em paper, Big Chief's dead. See, see, Injun oil. Got no need to till
rock soil. Hey, hey, what go wrong? Why you singing such silly song?
Ugg. Ugg. You can't talk? juice. Good.
Good. You know'em me. Got no sense now. Can't agree.
Rhythm A Little Lumbee, Page 7. Scot M a Pulitzer Prize winning
American Indian author, now head of the Department of English at the Uni-
versity of California, really got a kick out of this one when I met him
in 1970 at the First C of American Indian Scholars, held at
Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey. And then MacDonald, then an
announcer at Television Station WECT, Wilmington, North Carolina, used to
get chuckles as he read the following poem of mine, along with others, on
the air. And this one, I am making fun of the idea of racial superiority.
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I figured I could do this best by speaking through the lips of the monkey
Today I have something on my chest-and something more than hair!-And
dare I bring my case to rest, I trust you'll be aware that grave injustice
has been done to me and all my clan: They make my kinfolk, every one,
responsible for man! You see our poo eads bowed in shame Our honor
we defend! Though JcienihSai have the gall to claim, the monkeys they descend!
I challenge any man to do what we, as monkeys, can; and ere my little test
is through, you'll see deflated man! No man can hang down by his tail
from any limb! (note: monkeys are supposed to be able to do so, along
with apes, chimpanzes, and brothers in their species) In
every match of skill he'd fall. We'd make a fool of him! We do the things
no man can do, no matter how he tried, and all related few to you. For
yourself you'll decide who we're superior to whom, and what supports man's
claim! We'll never till the day of doom so let him sneer our name. What
man among six billion men, my poor proud people wail, could pass one week
and never sin? Or jump a barbed wire rail? We self-respecting monkeys
cry: No man can grow a coat! No man would have the nerve to try to pull
one monkey's vote! No monkey has to pay a tax, or meet his boss by eight;
No monkey's heartjust melts like wax if he's one minute late. And so I
say we're free from fear, but what of Cousin Mani He trembles when his
wife comes near, and buys the insured plan. Men brand themselves, "a
super kind of ape or monkey strain," and claim to have "a complex mind,
a well-developed brain." With mortgages and with red tape, they tie
themselves up tight. I challenge you to find an ape in such a hopeless
flight! (note: here the monkey writes this poetic.) Oh, prisoner of all
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that is! Thou Atlas with the world! Thou pride bound, self-styled mental
whiz against whom Fate has hurled. The tenants of eternity! The cares
and woes of time! Oh, no I would not be like thee, though thou work
When Amadas and Barlow reached what is now the North Carolina coast in 1584,
the Hatteras Indians they met, who are the ancestors of the present day
Lumbee Indians, knew nothing whatever of alcohol. A 1591 account of
that episode, however, describes how someone in the Amadas and Barlow
Company gave some wine to the Indians, "which they liked very well."
One popular idea about Indians is that they have a special affinity for
alcohol, and this account just might be where that idea began. Another
popular idea is that the American Indian loves alcohol, but is unable
to control it. It is true that alcoholism has been a problem among
American Indians as it has been among other ethnic groups. Perhaps the
dispair and hopelessness and frustrations brought on the Indian because
of his plight, partly accounts for this period. At any rate, it is a
problem here in the Lumbee River Valley. I wrote a poem about alcoholism
called, Portrait of a Loser. In this I tried to fuse the tragic and the
ridiculous, which are so often bedfellows in the life of an alcoholic.
I don't know how well I did, but here is the poem anyway.
PORTRAIT OF A LOSER
He mounts the stairs with iron will to raise a leaden hand. That light-
switch- it should be here still! He cannot understand....And now his
shoulder strikes the floor. It opens up with ease. His weight is spilled
upon the floor. He barks his trembling knees. He d-49o his weary body
up, the effort is supreme. He cannot bend to pet the pup that
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as in a dream. He fumbles, finds the high wall switch-and now come let
there be light! Way down his back, he starts to ich, and squirms with all
his might. On hands and knees, he finds his bed, and rolls his body in.
He sleeps like someone three years dead, then, there's the clock again!
Just then- "Wake up, you lazy lout!" His wife is in a stew. "Say, look
alive! Come on .t roll out! Is sleep all you can do?" He shaves
his face without a blade; he buttons on his tie. Somehow, his hat has
been mislaid, so now, he starts to cry. He combs and scrubs his hair;
he his shoes. The radio now starts to blare with news and
views and blues. He finds a pocket, reaches in, "I must have had a tie!"
He's hoped to find that last sweet ten. Instead, he finds a dime. He
jams his hat upon his head. He wonders if he's late. He now recalls
his boss had said, "Be here or else by eight!" He eats and tries to
reach the street on feet that weigh a ton. But he and diesel truck
down meet- and old King Corn has won!
Alcoholism and violence do seem to be characteristic of oppressed peoples
of this earth. The following poem called, The Rumor, is strictly in the
field of folklore. But I did hear such a story many years ago, about
three people who robbed a bank. Knowing that some of them would be caught,
one man agreed to confess to the bank robbery. The other man and the
first man's wife were to remain behind until this man, who confessed, went
to prison, served his time, and came back home. Then, they were supposed,
that they reckoned it, to live happily ever after. The reason this par-
ticular man was chosen to stay behind, and that the other man go to prison,
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was that he was a friend of the governor. It was thought that this
man could be effective in bringing about a pardon for the other man.
So they stashed the money away, and this man went off to prison. It
was while he was in prison that he heard the rumor, which forms the
title of the poem. The rest of it should be clear from the poem:
He wandered on till night was gone, then, just at dawn, he stopped
to sleep. He had to know if it were so this secret, Oh, so hard to
keep! He dropped the chain to ease the pain. He saw the stain of crimson
then. And cursed the day he'd gone away, so far away from Grace and
Ben. "You take the blame and save my name....I'll play the game as
we've agreed. I'll save your share and take good care of Gracie there
until you're free."....But word had come in monstrous sum in big bills
from old Ben was spent. That Ben and Grace, so fair a face, had left
the place with every cent! He whiled away a hungry day, his only tray
of food his wrath. But when the night dimmed out daylight he took to
flight along the path. The hour was late when, at the gate, he stopped
to wait until he heard the voice of Ben from deep within a hidden den
speak word by word. "We've made it Grace. There's not a trace of le-
gal case to hinder now. The governor signed Oh, was he blind! Now
we can find new lives, and how!" He gripped his chain, ignoring pain,
ignoring he could not see. The window near, he crept to peer
through panes as clear as glass can be. A there they were old
Ben and her! And Grace wore fur upon her back! He almost choked
as old Ben joked and Gracie stroked her coat of black. He raised his
gun. This would be fun! He'd get each one who'd the deal!
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"Now meet your lord!" the pistol roared. He could afford to hear them
squeal! He stepped inside. He would not hide. And while they died,
nearby he's stand. "Your pardon's through all signed for you The
paper flew from Grace's hand.
The foregoing poem, like many incidents in life, is fought with irony.
It has been said by someone that we carry our own inbuilt punishment
with us wherever we go. That if we commit a crime, a serious crime,
we have that within us which will eventually betray us into making
some kind of move overtly that will give us away. At least, that's
what was supposed to have happened here. Had not the man become jealous,
and suspicious, the plan might have worked out well. But when reached,
when rumors reached him in prison, his own emotions did the rest. So
even thought he was pardoned for one crime, he ended up committing a
still worse crime a double murder in this case. There is no moral
here, that I know of. The poem is simply a commentary on life. If
the whole thing was a little Lumbee well, that's all the book claimed
to be, actually.
The next poem is a lot more Lumbee.
TEN MILES OUT OF TOWN
Take that bench, Mister. So glad you came. Now this is my sister. YeP,
tL/f.C is her name. Pictures my mother, silent but wise. This here
one's my brother, the one with sharp eyes. Lost them and pappy, Oh,
moons ago. Yes, we two are happy considering, you know. We're all the
kinfolks left on the place. I've no time for your jokes remembering your
race. Where did we come from? I thought you knew. Here's coffee. Now
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have have some. Right here just like you. Oh, my back people. How
should I know? As straight as a steeple they faced that last blow.
Like this old farm house, once it had kids. Huh? That's a barn mouse
chewing on We've always been here. That's what they say.
Right in his den there, I guess we're that way. Ask him his pappy.
What does he care, so long as he's happy with no cats to fear. Your
coffee's cooling. Here, take some more. No, I wasn't fooling. What
makes you so sore? You think we're Injuns. I reckon so. Well, now
you'll find Injuns wherever you go. Why are you leaving? Coffee's not
drunk. Them clouds are still heaving. One bolt and you're sunk. Well,
so long,Mister. Wish you would stay. Wait, here is my sister. She'll
show you the way. Sure hope she makes it. It's so dark outside. This
leg, I'd just break it again if I tried. My watch is ticking, but I
can't see. Only the flickering of lightening near me. Thank G-d she's
come now. Knocks at the door. She made it somehow, and she's home
once more. Turn the knob, Nancy. Door doesn't lock. Lightening's
too chancy to stand there and knock. Hello there, Mister. Something
go wrong? Say, where's my sister, -f she's not along? What's that now,
Mister? She wet ahead, a live wire sister, and now she is
dead. Don't kneel there weeping, feeling ashamed. And don't you go
heaping on you all the blame. Sure she was leading, and you were led.
You should have been heeding the words that I said. Man's pride I'm
blaming. I have my share. My own pride needs taming, else she'd
be here. Let you go knowing the danger ahead. My pride overruled, and
now she is dead.
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Lew Barton, Page 11, Rhythm A Little Lumbee. Of the foregoing story,
it might not seem plausible to somebody who didn't live here. They
couldn't understand prejudice being so intense that a man would actu-
ally get out in a thunderstorm when electric lines might be blown
across the road and everything, just because he found himself in the
home of an Indian. But we do have a few people whose prejudice is that
intense, I'm afraid. So it sounds plausible to me, although it might
not sound plausible to someone on the outside of Robeson.
America, America, the hope of all mankind. The healer of the wounded,
and the lighthouse for the blind. America, America, where every man's
a king, where citizens are people, not mere puppets on a string. To me
thy name is music in the middle of the night. The world, too, hears thy
music and dispairs to reach thy light. America, America, I give my
heart to thee. It's not enough to give to one who gave so much to me.
Lew Barton, Page 15, Rhythm A Little Lumbee. The following songs are not
compositions of mine. We have identified them as Lumbee folk songs. I
sent copies of them to Professor Dan Patterson of the English Department
at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and he sent me back
lead sheets of these four songs which were later published in the Brown
Collection of North Carolina folklore. So far as I know the melodies to
these songs have never before been written down. One is called, Wild Bill
Jones, and we kids used to do it in school, and use a book to keep time.
By tapping on the book with our fingers and with our elbow, it went something
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WILD BILL JONES
One day as I was walking around met up with Wild Bill Jones. He was
walking and talking with my little girl. I had asked him to leave her
alone. He said, "My age is twenty-four, too old to be controlled." I
drew my revolver from my side and destroyed that poor boy so.
Another one of these songs is called, The Sheep and the Goats, and it
had that kind of rhythm, too, and it imitates the sound that goats make
with their mouths. You know, that kind of song, sound.
Oh, the sheep and the goats were going to pack. The sheep and the goats
had to walk a little back. The sheep and the goats rolled up my shoulder,
soon need packing by the old fishbowl
Well, that's the second one. Then there was another one I also got a lead
sheet for called, 'Ok the Devil Howl and it speaks of the day that concluded,
when religious people came out of the wilderness among our people, so to
speak. They used to hold meetings during the days when it was forbidden
that we should build churches and schools. We had to build, we had to
do our worshipping in what we called bush harbors. Now a brush harbor
is something you build by cutting the tops out of trees which grow closely
together, then you pile branches on top and make a shelter. These were
called brush harbor meetings. So this song goes:
vdeaden the Devil howlwhen I came out of the wilderness, came out of the'
wilderness, came out of the wilderness. Dee4e the Devil howlwhen I came
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oupf the wilderness leaning on the Lamb. Didn't my mother shout when we
came out of the wilderness, came out of the wilderness, came out of the
wilderness. Didn't my mother should when we came out of the wilderness
leaning on the Lord, and so on...
You can go on indefinitely with stanzas that way. Then there was another
son which I've heard only among the Lumbee Indians, which seems to speak
of the day when the Indian people, our people, gave up their old religion
for the new religion that came on, namely Christianity, which reached out
very early, possibly as early as 1660. But it seems to say, this song,
that it doesn't matter so much what your religion is so long as it's
sincere and heart-felt. The stanzas go something like this:
Tell me where did you get your religion? Tell me where did you get your
religion? Tell me where did you get your religion? Amen. Amen. I got
it on my knees a praying. I got it on my knees a praying. I got it on my
knees a praying. Amen. Amen.
And then there was another song which seemed to refer to a time when a
great Indian battle was fought near Red Springs in Robeson County, North
Carolina. Right here, in which blood was spilled into the river, and the
river was red with blood, and it's called, Red River. I've never heard
this song played anywhere except among the Lumbee Indians. The words
Red River, Red River, with water so deep and wide. You run from my back
window to the rising sun. Which way? Which way does that blood Red River
run? It runs from my back window to the rising sun.
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Red River, Red River, with water so deep and wide. You run from my back
windwo to the rising sun. Which way? Which way does the blood Red River,
blood Red River run? You run from my back window to the rising sun.
SIDE II; TAPE I
Music seems to be universal expression. All people, no matter howso-called
primitive the civilization, have some from of music. This is true among
our people, the Lumbee Indians of North Carolina, during the days when
it was almost impossible to get hold of musical instruments, real musical
instruments. For example, the youngsters used to play a bottle by-blowing
into the bottle and combining that with vocal sounds. I'll put some
water in a bottle to get the pitch up about where I want it. And then I'll
show you roughly how this sounded when we did it: We might even be able
to vary that tune just a little bit like this. Well, that isn't the
symphony orchestra by any means, but it is a form of music. I don't
know that we have a distinctive.dance that we can claim as our own. Our
young people today do watus, the twist, the funky-chicken, and all the
other modern dances that everybody else does. But at parties I have seen
people do the buck dance, what they call the buck dance, and it is simi-
lar to tap dancing. You use your heels and the base of your foot next
to the.toes. I'm not very good at it, but maybe I can demonstrate just
a little bit how it sounds, except that among our people, the way it was
done here it was done as they chanted a little recitation that they com-
posed probably as they went along, like: I was down in Atlanta, Georgia
the other day, and so forth, and so forth...Let me see if I can do just a
little bit of folk dancing, enough to show you what it sounds like, al-
though I am not at all good at it. I'm not good at any kind of dancing,
because most of the time that I've spent around dance halls, places
where people dance, it was my good fortune or bad fortune to be playing
music usually, so I didn't have an opportunity to learn to dance very
well. Anyway, I'll try to give you an example of how the folk dance
sounds. The person in our community whom I consider to be the best at
this kind of dancing, or at least he used to be, is Felix Hunt, F-e-l-i-x
H-u-n-t, who lives in the Prospect area. I don't know how this is going
to come out, how well, how this microphone is going to pick up, because
I'm on a cement floor, and that the folk dance goes sort of like this:
Of course you can tell I'm getting all feet there. I told you I'm the
world's worst dancer. In the old days that kind of dancing was accom-
panied by someone who did the rapping, r-a-p-p-i-n-g, that is accompani-
ment by patting and slapping the handswhen no music was available. It
sounded something like this. I'll just rap a little bit for you. I
think I can do that better than dancing. Here we go: Well, that's
what you call rapping. Somebody usually does that when there isn't any
music, and somebody else dances to that, accompaniment. A real folk
song is not written by any one person. It's a song which is usually
extemporaneous, made up as the people sing along. But I've tried my
hand at writing folk-style songs several times. And picking up snatches
of old stories here and there, with rhythm, I came up with The Seesaw
Ballad. I use this melody with it:
She saw,Usar, flirting on the seesaw. She saw ft. am on the rail.
She saw that squaw making eyes at Esau. She sai4 her 4 then began to wail.
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I saw Esau flirting on the seesaw. Paul, yourin-laws, done your baby
wrong. I saw on the seesaw. Hey, Paul, that squaw won't
be here for long. She saw her ma sneak up on the seesaw. She saw
her pa grab a gun. She saw Esau tumble off the seesaw. She
saw on the run. She saw Esau splashed against a mountain.
She saw splashing in the sea. She saw Esau beside the
fountain. That's all of Esau now that's left to see. I saw Esau flirting
on the seesaw. Paul, your in-laws, done your baby wrong. I saw
on the seesaw. Hey, Paul, that squaw won't be here for long. Pow.
Lew Barton, Rhythm A Little Lumbee, Page 6. In the Lumbee Indian communi-
ty the older people believe very fervently in the words, 'Until death do
us part,' where married people are concerned. Sometimes when people are
mismatched they live together somehow. But it isn't easy. I had this in
mind when I did the following folk-style lines:
You aint going where I'm going. You aint going where I'm going when you
die, you bet. When you hit that lonesome graveyard I won't have no more
regret. You aint going where I'm going. You'll be down below. When
you're cooling in your coffin I won't grieve for you no more. Way down
there you'll meet your pappy, what's the pappy of all lives. Maybe there
you can be happy flirting with them fireflies. You aint going where I'm
going. Aint no use to try. Devil he done got your number before you even
Lew Barton, Rhythm A Little Lumbee, Page 6. I tried to give my own concept
Page 18. dib
of poetry. On Page 8 of Rhythm A Little Lumbee, and I entitled it, This
is Poetry To Me.
THIS IS POETRY TO ME
The rare emotional moments captured and preserved by the poet are not
necessarily his own, anymore than anything painted by the artist is
necessarily a self-portrait. The writer of verse rubs hearts with another
human being during an unusual moment of his life. Through his compassion
and perception he shares that experience. If he decides that here is some-
thing truly human and moving that should be shared with others, he becomes
the interpreter of the moment, and powered to communicate the feeling
from heart to heart. He passes on that chunk of human heart, that hunk
of human experience, to those who are willing to understand.The picture
he has extracted from the life of another individual is not necessarily
for appraisal. It is to be shared. The experience is neither to be
approved nor condemned. It is to be understood. Do not be afraid to
feel. It is feeling that generates actions, that if a mother felt nothing
for her child, she would never be willing to protect its life with her
own. Without emotions there would be no marriages, no friendship, no
neighborliness, no patriotism, no loyalty, no happiness, no joy of living.
Of course, emotional capacity, like any other power, can be misused. The
true poet is only interested in communicating the highest and noblist
of human emotion. I believe every good poem should have a constructive
purpose for existing at all. For example, in Song of a Sinner, and Por-
trait of a Loser, in this book, it was my hope that you would be helped
to understand something. In the first mentioned piece the church failed
to reach a particular heart, and in the second, to see the tragedy that
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often accompanies the ridiculous in the life of an alcoholic. The folksy
ballads have been appealing down through the centuries because of their
unabashed sincerity and directness. Sometimes humor is employed in order
to drive home some truth that might not be palatable in any other form.
At other times beautiful word pictures suffice to etch lasting impressions
on the mind and heart. -What ever the form a particular poem may take, it
is used in the degree that you are willing to communicate and understand.
The word, Lumbee, and the phrase, a little lumbee, sprang into American
usage following a much publicized incident involving the Lumbee Indians
in 1958. The phrase means something practical, though not quite conven-
tional. I trust these lines, although admittedly a little primitive,
may serve to convey the impression intended, namely that there is a com-
mon human denominator of which all men are a part. The author's permis-
sion for the use of this copywrited material, copywrite 1961,by Lew
Barton, all-rights reserved, I hereby grant it to the Oral History Program
of the University of Florida at Gainesville, Dr. Samual L. Proctor, Direc-
tor. In the same year that Rhythm A Little Lumbee was published in 1961,
ay 6ut in Carolir was also published because that's the year I went to
the University of North Carolina to begin studying for my masters degree
in English. One poem in that book related to Indians is the one which I
call, The Fire, and it has to do with an incident that occurred when my
wife and daughter were delivering newspapers to help keep me in the Uni-
versity to get my degree. They had passed a particular house a number of
times and had attempted to get the people who lived there to take the
paper. They delivered papers early in the morning. Of course, judging
from the gentleman's attitude he wanted nothing at all to do with Indians.
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But one morning as they rode by they noticed the smoke bellowing up out
of that same house. So they started knocking on the door, and the people
inside recognizing that here are the same people who had been trying to
get us to take that darn paper, refused to get up, refused to answer. So
the fire was getting worse and worse, and in desperation my wife and
daughter, my ex-wife and daughter, rushed to the telephone and called
the fire department, and when those people got up the house was on fire
and the fire department was on the scene with a stream of water turned on
the building. That story has a happy ending, because the gentleman of the
house promptly subscribed to the paper. Anyway, I wrote a poem which was
inspired by this incident, called, The Fire, and it has to do with the
misunderstanding that can exist between white people and Indians, or
black people and Indians for that matter, or between yellow people and
Indians even. It's called, The Fire, and it's contained on Page 17, of
Way Out in Carolina.
The morning sun was scarcely out. The grass still wet with dew. The
autumn chill spread all about, and mist obscured the view. The farm
house nestled by the hill, was silent, dark as dead. A red man glided
o'er the rill to pause there out of breath. He rapped upon the
board. Hello. Hello. Yoo hoo. And Brown awoke inside. Good Lord,
whatever shall we do? The man removed his battered hat, and tried to
peer inside. Hey Mr. Brown, do you know that, he shook the knob and
cried. There is no Mr. Brown in here, brave Mrs. Brown now lied. Be
gone and don't you dare come near. For less some men have died. Now
off the porch they heard him jump. They heard him as he ran. A moment
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later at the pump he pumped and filled a pan. They guessed the man had
stopped and washed his face, or so it seemed. They heard the water as
it sloshed. At last they slept and dreamed. They never knew till she
awoke at last to dress and cook, the kitchen walls were charred and broke,
but outed by their "crook."
I thought perhaps this would show how easily misunderstanding can arise
between members of different races. Breaking into the writing profession
can be very difficult for anyone. For an Indian with no literary back-
ground or family tradition that is literary, it is almost impossible.
I worked very hard trying to establish myself as a writer when I was very
young. But it wasn't easy, and sometimes I was near the point of dis-
pair. I wrote a poem about it called, Voice in the Wilderness, and it's
contained on Pages 20 and 21 of Way Out in Carolina.
VOICE IN THE WILDERNESS
I cry. I'm but the voice of one within a wilderness. I sigh beneath the
blazing sun. I strive to gain respect. I yearn. The door of
is shut against my face. I learn. But only mutterance they credit to
my race. I tear my heart. I rend my soul. I pray to hollow skies. I
mend my art, improve control, but still the world decries. My goal.
I'm but the verse of one who hails a deafened pray. And all I gain
beneath the sun are more roles to express.
But I guess I hit an all time low in discouragement when I wrote the fol-
lowing poem, which is still unpublished.
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Gone, but not remembered. Gone, but not forgotten lied lonely stone,
standing there alone, unremembered. Gone, but not remembered right
upon my stone. If I have a stone unremembered, writings unremembered,
bury beneath my stone, make these words my own. Not remembered. Oh,
my G-d, remember me at they great white throne, lest I there, too, grown,
In the Lumbee River Valley, there is a type of personality which has
always fascinated me, a carry over from other days and perhaps the
Indian Race and the caucasian race., This type character is known
usually as a conjurer. It can be a conjurer woman, or a conjurer man.
In this poem, however, contained on Page 24 of Rhythm A Little Lumbee ,
is called, The Conjurer Woman.
THE CONJURER WOMAN
That conjurer woman down the trail, she conjured, then she cried. She
said, "Oh, no, I will not fail to bring her to your side." She shook her
gourd of conjure roots, and canted words unknown. And then she took my
cowhide boots to bring my woman home. She said a conjure portent cost
and why should I complain? She said although my boots were lost I'd
gain a wiser brain. I never knew until you came what that old woman
meant. That dope, my woman's not the same. Should have been glad you
I have always abhorred losing a friend. In 1927, at the age of nine, we
moved out of the Indian community proper where we'd lived around Prospect,
and moved more or less on the outskirts of the Indian community where there
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was also a thin sprinkling of white and black families. It was then
that I realized for the first time that there were white people, and
that there were black people, and that they were different from me
somehow- because I was an Indian. Anyway, I became a very close friend
of the landlord's son, who was the same age as I, and when we had to
part from each other, when it was time for them to move away, it was a
very heartbreaking experience for both of us. It seems that while
children are very young there isn't any objection to white children and
Indian children playing together. But as they grow older, and of course,
other restrictions are stricter. Anyway, I have this feeling about
friendship, which I tried to express in my poem called, My Enemy, on
Page 20 of Way Out in Carolina.
Today I learned, somehow discerned, that you are now my foe. Tonight
I wept before I slept. I did not wish it so. A stupid word, but over-
heard, and now I pay the cost. All woe is me, and enemy, my peace of
mind is lost. I was not grieved that I'd received the need to now de-
fend myself, but that the stupid spat had cost a life-long friend.
I have always believed in and wanted to help in every way possible, our
young people, especially after I taught for three years in two high
schools. I think my appreciation of young people is reflected in the
poem contained on Page 22 of Way Out in Carolina. It's called, To A
Radiant Teenager, and it was inspired by a reader of mine called Alice
Shira, S-h-i-r-a. She read for me because I couldn't read for myself,
because of my visual handicap when I was earning my masters degree at
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the University of North Carolina. I guess I wrote this poem out of ap-
preciation because Alice Shira seemed to symbolize most of our young
people her age. It's called, To A Radiant Teenager.
TO A RADIANT TEENAGER
Thank you for that ray of sunlight, unknown shed upon my way, for your
presence, for your insight, for transfiguring my day. In the sunlight
of your presence I need nothing more to be at the core of life's sweet
essence basking in infinity. You spell beauty, youth and glory, all
these things and more to me. That sweet essence of life's story for an
old soul-should cease to be. Thank you. Thank you. Intervening years
and miles we both shall know. Yet these two shall have new meaning
since you taught my heart to go.
It has always been a beautiful thing to me when a young person is growing
up. Of course, they are in limbo when they are approaching their teens or
in their early teans, neither a child nor an adult. On Page 21 of Way Out
in Carolina I have written a poem which I call, A Maiden's Prayer.
A MAIDEN'S PRAYER
Before the mirror on the wall she sat and dreamed of someone tall, and
wondered when the day should be that she would finally make it as a
woman. Her toothpick arms and legs were bare. She had not learned to
set her hair, and yet she dared to hope that she ere long would finally
make it as a woman. She seemed to know, though no one said, she tilted
quite a pretty head. The time was really very near that she would
finally make it as a woman. The days would drag, the problems rise
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before that look was in her eyes, and many males with wolf call cheer,
which show that they were glad she was a woman. A woman's power she'd
possess, the might to curse, the right to bless, for better this old
world could be because she finally made it as a woman. The thought was
startling in a way. She bowed her pigtailed head to pray. She did not
know but surely she, at heart at least, had made it as a woman. The
quality that makes a girl a woman, nature's priceless pearl, is in her
heart and not her form. That's how she finally knows she is a woman.
She comes to care, to sympathize, to feel and know and wait and prize.
Her face lights up, her heart grows warm, and she has finally made it
as a woman.
Because I do know and understand young people, and am at least tolerated,
and in some measure appreciated by them, I can kid them without offending
them, as I often do. That's what I was doing in this poem called, Women's
Fashions which I did in dialect.
The hemline, she is going up. The neckline, she is falling. That waist-
line just keeps squeezing in. That new look is appalling. The hip line,
she keeps spreading out. The bust line goes on swelling. And if this
thing keeps going on, where she ends there's no telling. She's made of
straps, or belts and wraps. It's only her that's missing. She puts on
here. She takes off there. It's only her. She paints her lips for kissing.
That gal, you see, is not herself. The shape she's in, she's padded, or
that gal did not subtract. You can be darn sure she added.
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I've used this poem many times with young people, and it always gets
a laugh. Nobody has ever been offended by it, because they know that
I don't really mean that. But I think their, their clothing is
The Ballad of Two Lost Lovers, was written in May, written on May 18,
THE BALLAD OF TWO LOST LOVERS
Tell me, nurse, you look so lonely, has your lover said good bye? Did
he sware to love you only, only now to make you cry? Every day here at
my bedside I have watched you watch in vain for a message out of some-
where, or a word that never came. I can tell it by your glances when I
try to catch your eye, life is just a game of changes. There, there, now,
I've made you cry. Maybe I, too, knew a lover, just before my crack up
came, but I now know nothing of her. I don't even know my name. (note: in
the persona of this poem the man, the patient in the hospital,is suffering
from amnesia following an accident, and you have two speakers here.- Now
the nurse speaks.) Oh, be quiet. Now I've hurt you. Please forgive
a foolish nurse. True, you've had your mind desert you, but my loss is
even worse. You've forgotten, I remember every vow my lover made. How
we quarreled last September, how to some one else he strayed. All she
wanted was his money. Now it's gone,she's gone away. She took all, It's
almost funny how she left us both to pay. But I see your dark eyes saddened.
I have been unfair to you. Nurses want their patients gladdened, not to
make them sad or blue. No, no, nurse, you haven't hurt me. I could hear
you on and on. Oh, don't go noW, Don't desert me. When you're near, all
fear is gone.