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.
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