I have just got back to England from a 4 1/2 week ramble through the Southern States of America, through Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina. The first three weeks were spent trekking along the Benton Mackaye trail backpacking, camping and looking out for bears. One of the several reasons for the adventure was to walk though the land of the Cherokee Indians who had once lived in these forests, creating a distinctive and rich of culture of their own, They had tried valiantly and intelligently to accommodate the growing influx of settlers into their lands but were betrayed in treaty after treaty by the new American government, in the end most shamefully by President Andrew Jackson who forced them move out of their homelands and across to the west on a trek known as The Trail of Tears in which 4000 people died. After that vast areas of the old forest was cut down by logging companies and settlers clearing farmland. A few of the Cherokee managed to cling on living in remote and inaccessible places to now form the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. And in many places the forest has returned growing back over abandoned settlements, into designated National Parks and on land returned to the wilderness. Much of this poem was written in my head as we trekked through the greenwood. I would scribble remembered lines down in my notebook by headtorch light as I lay in my tent at night listening to the song of cicadas and distant sound of animals in the dark. This is still a draft
Mist damp and warm,
Eddying in clouds
Through gaps in the trees
My knees aching, and the tendrils of the wood
Grasping at my weary boots.
I crossed the line into the wildness of trees.
In the borderlands,
In the bear darkness.
And amongst the Hickory and the Hemlock,
Watched by the unblinking salamander
Where the sacred cedar holds the spirits of those,
Who slept upon this springy earth,
I trekked through with my light-footed companion
Up the broken trail.
Gasping and cursing in the pagan heat,
Pausing for breath as the sweat
Ran into my eyes,
Already sticky with spider’s webs and dirt.
I envied her grace and her weightlessness
And the way the greenwood wrapped itself around her.
Whilst I, a temporary alien,
Bending double, leaning on sticks,
Empty of thought
Looked down and saw
Mica glistening like desperate snow flakes
On the steaming griddle,
And pushing through the long earth
Hearts-a-bustin’ and Jack‘O Lantern
And purple Aster.
Which made me pause
Sling off my pack and rest against a rock
And look up through the tumultuous leaves
And listen for those who once slipped through the shadows
Vanishing like fireflies dancing in the dark.
These trees are not that old I am told,
And the brown river is bursting’ with water dredged
With the rising of the last moon from the deep Atlantic,
So that each prodigal moment is carried back to the forgiving sea
The Jewel Weed and Poison Ivy are of this season,
Each day ends
What then really remains then of the memory of the Cherokee?
.I remember someone once told me
That the skin on your hand,
Renews itself every five years,
Replicating the scars and stories,
Of childhood and adolescence.
Your hand holds memories not artefacts
And so it may be
With the forest of the Cherokee,
The tale before the tears is still written
Upon the endless forest which is
A serpent coiled around the,
Like a dragon around a hoard
Of copper, iron, gold, manganese and garnets.
Written also so it
Lingers in the tangled growth and the way of the fox
And the falls and the path to
Asginayi - ghost place - which is also Skeinah
And with these memories
The smoke rises,
In the space between the longing
In the dreams of old fires
In the shiver in the waters of the forgotten creek.
.And as the trees danced in the light of Autumn
I heard in the chant of the cicada and frog
A old remembering and their song,
“There was wildness in us
Wild in the way our blood
Flowed with the Red Wolf and the Black Bear,
Wild as the dappling light
Flickering on the Copperhead
Wild in the sacred moment and the awareness of being seen
Wild as we rose with the smallest of things
To great heights.”
'Cherokee Smoke' is the first output of my Gone To Look For Americas Project: an exploration in poetry, prose, song and performance of the Beautiful Broken Dream that is at the heart and soul of America and in all of us. Planned are two albums, a book and a tour.
For further information contact Steve at firstname.lastname@example.org