New Orleans, a Tuesday, 7:30 A.M.
I’m sipping coffee at a McDonald’s on Canal
when two young black men, early twenties perhaps,
walk in, buying nothing. Suddenly,
I’m aboard a mothership,
streaking toward the farthest stars.

One, like a fly, bobs the aisles, sweaty
in his Crown Royal muscle shirt.
Gym shorts hanging off his ass,
headset in his ears, he pantomimes
a singer and dances a Mardi Gras mambo
in July, with himself, second-lining
silky-smoothly across the floor, out the door,
onto the parking lot—his own block party
without the block.

The other, well-groomed, small backpack,
talks loudly, eloquently to himself
about home, what it is, isn’t and should be, then,
facing the faces, he launches a soliloquy
of senseless babble,
and you sense the other—
the voices, a stage, curtain and cast,
his fans and followers looking on,
inside his head.

I’m gazing stars. Drawn to the glow
of their wayward worlds,
I can’t help
but pause, watch and listen.
I’m entertained,
but scared, because they’re black men
and I’m one, too,
with a son and grandsons of my own,
and I can’t help
but ponder: what’s loose,
what’s broken, what’s gone wrong,
what’s the fix?

From Soul Be A Witness (MadHat Press, 2016). Copyright © 2016 by John Warner Smith. Used with the permission of the author.

Bowed beneath the dead'ning weight of Woe, 
Crawling 'neath the galling yoke of Owe:
     Obligation's hand
     Beats him with his wand,
And his restless bed his burden knows! 

'Neath stern Justice's ever grinding heels, 
In Debt's prison now he sadly kneels;
     Fettered with Due's claim,
     Pilloried with shame! 
And no tongue can tell pain he feels.

Fortunate is he if now he bear
Not a greater burden than this care;—
    If his soul is free
    From sin's misery
He may work 'til life again is fair. 

This poem is in the public domain. 

As I lie in bed,
Flat on my back;
There passes across my ceiling
An endless panorama of things—
Quick steps of gay-voiced children,
Adolescence in its wondering silences,
Maid and man on moonlit summer’s eve,
Women in the holy glow of Motherhood,
Old men gazing silently thru the twilight
Into the beyond.
O God, give me words to make my dream-children live.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on August 29, 2020, by the Academy of American Poets.