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Within the Poem “Everyone Needs Someone”

Sometimes it is easier to write a poem than an entire non-fictional story due to memories connected to the story. I wrote the following poem long before I was willing to look into the meaning behind it. But one day, I became willing to share with myself and others what was deep within the poem.

Everyone Needs Someone

My granddaddy was Cherokee
with eyes and hair black as tar 
and shiny as a crow's back.
My Irish grandmother said
I looked like him.
I hoped so because I liked him.

Memories of my paternal Cherokee granddaddy often float into my mind. I see his faint outline in a ragged gray suit and worn fedora hat as he stands on a street corner in front of my grandmother's tiny shotgun house. He is drunk and smiling. I am five years old, and he tells me not to trust white people. "They'll take everything you've got and then give you something else so they can take that away, too," he says.   Although I was taught never to look into his eyes or speak back, I can hear the screaming in my heart, "But my mama is white!"

I liked the way his voice sounded
like soft running water over smooth pebbles
whenever he would tell me to ignore
the poor (like us) Black children living down the road
whenever they would laugh, point at us and demand,
"Talk some Mexican!"

Granddaddy stood five-feet-four inches and was slight of stature. "Paper-sack-brown" was how my family described his coloring. Shiny, crow-black hair and eyes. When drunk, he called himself “a full Cherokee." I don’t think he meant full-blooded as he also carried some Irish blood, but it was obvious he was delighted to be American Indian. Many times people mistook him for one of the Mexicans who came to the rich bottomlands of western Tennessee every fall to pick cotton. He never bothered to correct them.

When I was growing up  during the fifties, it wasn't as acceptable to be American Indian as it is now. There were no "Dances with Wolves"  or other movies over which non-Indians romanticized. No one was looking to become a "medicine healer,”  "shaman," or "pipe carrier" overnight. And very few who wanted to claim Indianness in order to escape the accusation of the raping of the environment. Indians and other minorities were looked down on even more so than today. I still carry a bit of the pain of having Indian blood, although I have learned it is not only my pain I am carrying, but also Granddaddy's and those who have gone before.

he would tell me,
touching my crying eyes with a copper-colored hand,
"it's better not to claim you're Indian
in these parts of Tennessee.
Everyone needs someone to look down on.

I am sure at one time Granddaddy was extremely proud of his Indianness, but because others constantly put him down, this changed. People often make fun of what they don't understand.  Granddaddy preferred to pray down by the Obion and Forked Deer rivers or in the woods. I think these were the only two places he felt safe and at peace with the world. He was often ridiculed and, more often, ignored. Indifference is so much worse than hate.

But Granddaddy died long before I learned
the truths behind stockade forts made of greed
thousands of tears trailing in the snow
unwanted lands reserved
the ridiculous act of termination
and the never-ending stings of discrimination.

Long before he finished telling me the stories
of how our family had to hide out in the caves
of western North Carolina.
Long before the Cherokee blood in my veins
began to truly overflow the Irish.  


When Granddaddy passed to Spirit, I was still quite young. My parents were divorced, and my dad, who never wanted to talk about being Indian, moved out West. For a long time, I wandered through my life searching for a way to belong to two worlds. Writing and publishing the writings of others carrying Indigenous blood has helped me build the bridge.

And when he died
his eyes no longer shone, his hair was dirty, matted,
and the smooth stones in his voice were muddied gravel.
Granddaddy died drunk and alone
speaking his language to the stars.

Conceivably, Granddaddy was right about everyone needing someone to look down on to feel better about the odds life presents.  If so, then are we all possibly the same inside, regardless of race, skin color, or social status? Is the idea of needing someone to look down on a Jungian theory? Perhaps. I'm almost certain Granddaddy never heard of Carl Jung, but he sure knew how to read the hearts of others. Maybe we all should look into our own hearts and see if we are indeed looking down on others, and if we are, ask ourselves why.  Isn't it time we concentrate on the similarities we share instead of the differences? To realize we are all part of the whole? This just might be one of the answers to stopping some of the hate in the world.

     Think about this the next time you feel judged or are told you are “less than.”  Or, are tempted to do this to another. After all, we are all in these crazy times together. And I’m sure Grandaddy would still feel the same about life now as he did then. He sure taught me a lot, sometimes with words, and sometimes with silence.

MariJo Moore is a poet/writer/anthologist/publisher/artist/spiritual adviser of Cherokee/Irish descent. She has authored over 27 books including novels, poetry, books of short stories, books of quotes, and compiled and edited various anthologies of Indigenous writings such as Genocide of the Mind, Unraveling the Spreading Cloth of Time - Indigenous Thoughts Concerning the Universe, dedicated to Vine Deloria, Jr and  and Power of the Storm: Indigenous Voices, Visions, and Determination dedicated to John Trudell. The recipient of various literary and publishing awards, her essays, poems, artwork and editorial commentaries have appeared in many magazines, anthologies, newspapers and online. She resides in Asheville, NC.