HOLLYWOOD, FLA. -- The mystic cooing, I heard it
as I walked among the cypress
and willow tree.
At first I thought it was
my mind playing tricks on me.
But as the Breeze of the Gentle Wind
flowed through the glades
and softly touched my face,
I knew I was on Hallowed ground
and it was right for me
to be in this place.
Poetry welled up inside Moses Jumper Jr. all those years, running through his fingers and feet as he pushed through the thick woods of his childhood.
It rushed out when he was 18, when he needed it.
"My mother had a birthday and I didn't have any money," Moses Jumper said. He wrote her a poem that he no longer remembers, but he remembers how it felt: so good that he had to write more.
It did not occur to him that he had begun something important, for himself and other Seminole Indians -- that one day his tribe would honor him by publishing a collection of his work.
His poems, hundreds now, bring the tribal tradition of storytelling to the modern world.
"He writes in such a manner about our culture that I can feel, smell, almost touch what he says," said James Billie, tribal chairman. "The only thing I miss is him sitting by the campfire."
The setting is different, but the inspiration is ancient.
He sees poetry in the fields, the sky, river, stars
He knows the Great Spirit and Giver of Breath has
made them all, and they are all part of one.
"I'll be sitting in a corner or going down a road," said Jumper, 39. "Certain places I've been -- in the woods -- just move me. I remember the places. They give me a story."
Pen and pad lie waiting for this inspiration on the seat of a Pontiac. Jumper spends much of his life riding the old roads that connect the Hollywood reservation with Seminole communities in Brighton and Immokalee and Big Cypress, where he lives.
He is the tribe's recreation director, and he is always needed somewhere for a basketball game or rodeo or softball tournament. He makes the 60-mile drive to Hollywood nearly every day, and often takes a few boys back to hunt and fish with his own sons.
"I grew up here, but it's changed," he said in his office in the tribe's big, yellow rec hall in Hollywood. "I didn't want my sons to grow up here. I wanted them to have the woods."
In Jumper's youth, before smoke shops and bingo, the reservation was all wood and dirt, far from town. His father wrestled alligators. His mother, Betty Mae Jumper, was the tribe's first woman chairman.
He was picked to go to a private school in Fort Lauderdale on a scholarship.
"It was a good education, but I read what they wanted us to read," he said. He read that Seminoles ambushed Maj. Francis Dade in 1835 and started a war with the United States. He wondered why.
As my eyes look back on the history of the Indian
my heart weeps with pain ...
Yet, I am happy because I am one of the few
who can read.
He became a star athlete at McArthur High School. Everyone called him Big Shot, as many still do.
Jumper made the all-county football team and won an athletic scholarship to the University of Tampa, where he studied English and literature. He passed through a series of small colleges, in Oklahoma and Kansas, reading all he could and sharing ideas with other Indians.
"A teacher got me interested in a Creek poet, Alexander Posey. It opened me up to the insights of Native Americans."
Jumper entered his poetry in contests, and won.
He kept writing after graduation, when he returned to Hollywood to help start the recreation program.
In 16 years he has guided it from occasional weed-field ball games to an ambitious $500,000-a-year program of sports and fitness. The strong boy has become a stronger man, with big hands and powerful arms.
The opportunity to see and hear Jumper's poetry comes often, whenever there is a festival or holiday or other occasion to be remembered. The tribe always calls on Big Shot for a few words.
Billie said he expects that Jumper's recently published collection, "Echoes in the Wind," will lead to wider exposure for its author. He is certain non-Seminoles will understand the message.
So far, he has been careful to avoid the stories that tradition forbids a Seminole to tell outside the tribe. Billie says he shouldn't worry.
"They've already been talked about," Billie said. "They're probably somewhere in the Smithsonian. If he doesn't put them down, nobody will know about them."