Poetry by African Native American, Shonda Buchanan: The Trail

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“The Trail” by Shonda Buchanan
(For the Staffords, Roberts, Manuels and Mathews)

“Trust the first drum, your heart, for all your answers. The ancestors will follow…” -Shonda Buchanan

Shonda Buchanan, of Choctaw, Coharie, Cherokee & African heritage is the author of “Who’s Afraid of Black Indians?”.  Who’s Afraid of Black Indians? is a difficult yet beautiful collection of poetry that peeks into one American family’s cultural window. Wanting to forget the past, this chapbook of poetry explores the journey Shonda’s ancestors took from North Carolina to Tennessee, to Indiana and finally Michigan, and the flight and fight to escape racial persecution and racial classification. Yet it is also a book about the recovery of an identity–the intersection of Blacks and Indians in this country. Shonda and her family, like so many other “bi-racial” Native Americans, suffered from not knowing their full roots, and the ills of assimilation, all the while and enduring society’s ever-evolving definition of them. This book will hopefully help other Black Indians, as well as bi-racial and tri-racial peoples, research, reclaim and celebrate their multifaceted heritage.

“The Trail”

These are the holes
That fill you up
A morning after 4th
Of July
The empty hollow
A memory in the fire
The quiet morning
Rises
Death of father
Suicide of a nephew
Addiction of sister
Another nephew at war
His brother, prison
Pummeling of a mother and aunts
The breaking of lives without a sound.
No honor in their deaths or mistakes
No memory of them, except here

These are the shimmering calcified minutes
The spotted ghosts of a black Indian’s
Midwest life

Where nothing and everything changed
In the fires that burned your farm houses down
And you wonder how you would
Have been or grown
How you would have loved
Had not this or this happened

I remember another July
Years past, under the glass of time
When we were all together, laughing
Spit-polished by hard love
Smoky with hunger for the future
When memory was a thing
Yet to come

–Shonda Buchanan

The title of Shonda Buchanan’s new poetry collection asks a question: Who’s Afraid of Black Indians? It’s a powerful question and the book is powerful: an awakening for some, a storehouse of memories for others, a clarification of American history for all. It is also an embrace; the author embraces her lineage and autobiography and self, and because she shares these things with the reader, the reader, too, is embraced. A lovely, eye opening, generous, and fascinating collection! –Kelly Cherry, Author of The Retreats of Thought: Poems; Poet Laureate of Virginia, 2010-2012

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Note: African Native American or Afro Native? People who call themselves “Black Indians” are people living in America of African-American descent, with significant heritage of Native American Indian ancestry, and with strong connections to Indian Country and its Native American Indian culture, social, and historical traditions. Black Indians are also called African Native American people, Black American Indians, Black Native Americans and Afro Native Americans.

Shonda Buchanan is an award-winning poet and fiction writer of African & Native American heritage. Photo: Hampton University Museum in Hampton, VA.

I Love Ancestry is a global issue advocacy campaign that explores identity, diversity, heritage and culture, highlighting the experiences of marginalized people and Indigenous communities around the world.

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