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The River Speaks of Thirst, for Our Beloved Eno River

By: NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green

The Eno, Shakori and Occoneechee tribes lived along the Eno River before Europeans settled there. Still, there is a history of African Americans living in the Eno River watershed. The story is captured in “Ribbons of Color: The History of African Americans and People of Color Living Along the Eno River,” published by the Eno River Association. North Carolina Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, the state’s first African American poet laureate, writes about the Eno in this poem.

The piece is a part of The River Speaks of Thirst, a collection of audio poems written by Shelton Green that document the real experiences of Black people in the past and present, and was contributed as a part of our African American Heritage Guide project.

The sun sets at West Point on the Eno in Durham.

The Eno River's tranquil bends and eddies captivate all who visit. Photo: Discover Durham

Oh, how I want to sit here and sing into your night
lean deep inside the elbows of this river where blood is born
sing a litany into this open book of your story my story
river shrugs it’s belly
births kindness for all things yet to be born

Oh, how I want to sit here and feast from your wet palms
river wounded heart holding
the locked secrets of ancestral crones
kneeling feeding the doorways
of all my/your drowned seasons

Oh, how I want to be born inside this river
as a lone wild burst of yellow
becoming more and more an eclipse of wind
becoming more and more an eclipse of freedom
we are all this flow
we are all this river where blood is born

Oh, how I yearn to empty the veins of my life story
into this nameless pregnant river
like you like me it also struggles to remember
its own
birthing its own flow
wide deep story that swallows forest
that births newness inside the whisper of this story this hungry thunde

Oh, how I yearn to bear such freedom
hold the stones the bones the skeletons of moon sun dust
inside mouth womb spirit tomb
conjure a dervish of primal ancient becoming
we swallow more and more of this river where blood is born
we shape-shift into the sweet shadows
of this river’s dance this river’s prayer

howling when it runs backwards
remembering other names other skins other songs its birthed and sung.

more stories from the African American Heritage Guide

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Jaki Shelton Green-Poet

Jaki Shelton Green, ninth Poet Laureate of North Carolina appointed in 2018, is the first African American and third woman to be appointed as the North Carolina Poet Laureate and reappointed in 2021 for a second term by Governor Roy Cooper. Jaki Shelton Green teaches Documentary Poetry at Duke University Center for Documentary Studies and the 2021 Frank B. Hanes Writer in Residence at UNC Chapel Hill. Additionally, she received the George School Outstanding Alumni Award in 2021.