Jaki Shelton Green and island writer Kelley Shinn. Photo: P Vankevich

Editor’s note: Jaki Shelton Green was appointed last year by Gov. Roy Cooper to serve as North Carolina’s ninth Poet Laureate.  She is a frequent visitor to Ocracoke and holds workshops on the island for her writer’s group, SistaWrite. 

Distant Lover,

If coastal trails, marshes, and the hammock on the porch at the Crews Inn could talk, you’d already know and understand how deeply I am wooing you back to my heart. I love your rich vibrant heritage, your wild and untamed winds, your sea birds, and the lull of ocean that moves me to write and dance when I’m cruising in your arms.

Over and over again, you have called out to me and my band of writing mermaids to run away from our frenetic paces and sojourn to your maritime views and salty ghosts who guide our pens in the nakedness of your quiet nights. It is here where I remember to breathe deeply.

My Dear Ocracoke, I have seen you swimming in shallow waters before. I’ve heard you crying inside your fish nets, your crab pots, and slowly crawling back from the storm’s lash.

But this time, far away, I too felt the gut-wrenching quiet screams you held back from the children. I felt the white-knuckled fear that bound you hostage throughout the night as your house swayed with an uninvited dancer.

I counted the days with you as you cried out for help. Over social media, Face Time, Instagram we wept together as I stumbled with you in and out of kitchens, bedrooms, porches covered in mud and storm debris.

I have been grieving your losses while celebrating your tenacious will to rise, reclaim, recover, repurpose, and resist. This is why I love you unconditionally.

Your arms hold a community of life that becomes legend. I know that I am not the only one that you hold so close that I can hear your heartbeat, but you have always made me think that it’s only me.

I know about the time a few Thanksgivings ago when my family went to the beach and you decided to creep in. I think my mom (who is 103 years old now) was secretly waiting for you to open all the windows and doors at our home away from home.

I thought it strange that my elderly, cautious, timid mom was rushing us out so she could nap on the couch alone in a house she didn’t know. You rushed right in, tender breezes caressing her tiredness, covering her spirits with a blanket of sweetness while she dreamed all afternoon about swimming with dolphins.

Under other circumstances, I would have been heartbroken that another human had experienced such gentleness from my distant lover of so many years. But, I have accepted your dalliances…a lover of all seasons and all generations.

My Dear Ocracoke, I am writing to you because you must never think that I would run away from you now in these troubled times. I am here, your distant lover, committed to holding you now and forever through the thick and thin of it all.

Your sunsets, your stray whispers, and our midnight full moon baths are all I need from you right now. I’m coming soon and I won’t be surprised by all the lovers stroking your back… after all, it takes a village.

Forever, your distant lover,

Jaki Shelton Green

P.S. It is imperative that this letter be read while listening to Distant Lover by Marvin Gaye









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  1. I agree Patricia and Farley. The most beautiful letter and the pride of being able to spend time on the Outer Banks and precious Ocracoke. There is magic there and it keeps calling you back. When we can I will be back.

  2. Ms. Green, I can hear your VOICE and Marvin’s melodic comfort from his throat as we close our eyes to the sound of Love!

  3. That is so lovely and reminiscent of probably the emotion of anyone who has been fortunate to spend time on the Outer Banks. Thank you.

  4. jJaki, You’re right. You are not the only one who holds Ocracoke “so close that you can hear it’s heartbeat.” That is the magic of Ocracoke. Those of us who have visited so many times, have watched the island and it’s mystical powers, and come to feel like the residents are family; we are truly the lucky ones.

  5. How inspiring, how it penetrates into the hearts of those who have experience Ocracoke in such a way though it beings hurt and tears it also brings strength and hope. We know when the heart is touched by something we love so much we want to reach out but at times feel hopeless. We may not be able to be at Ocracoke but we still feel the hurts, pains and tears and we also see the sun rise giving us hope and strength to know it’s a new day and we will stay strong There is a lot we can learn from our friends at Ocracoke. They are united and never give up. Thank you for this article

    • I read this beautiful letter through tears and memories of our beautiful Ocracoke. My first trip to the island and I knew I would never love anywhere more than Ocracoke. The feelings strolling over the town and the feeling of being somewhere back in time. I felt like I had taken a deep breath and was renewed. I have yet to read a letter that meant so much to me and thank Jaki for sharing this treasure. Oh, Ocracoke how much we love you. I purchased an item to help you and I will be back. I will be back.

  6. Yes, I am one of those other lovers of Ocracoke. I am also a lover of beautiful writing. What a strange pleasure to read your letter with tears in my eyes.

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