Sisters Mourning

That year, the old sisters wore black in every season,
emptying hope chests like a roof-tearing twister—
so much to keep, so little to pass on. They must have sensed
fear flashing in their uteruses, and wondered

what locust larvae lay dormant beneath the goldenrod,
boring their tender limbs, reminding them
of limpid skies, how bound they were to things living.
Some days they gathered to celebrate the family—

Sundays in the sun, young lovers with nests
full of babies, old lovers with memories cradled
in their brows. Circled beneath a canopy of oaks,
they boiled blue crabs and crawfish in an open flame.

They told their stories with songs and black-and-white
photographs, between shuffled cards and dots counted
on small ivory stones. Now, four hand fans later,
the sisters speak of fallen branches. They take refuge

in beveled mirrors, in quiet times with questions
dangling in a slipknot. From their necks hang
hand-knitted scarves and the albatrosses
of pain not forgiven, salutations written but not sent.

Still, they wait to see patterns quilted for the spring
bazaar, the evergreens blooming in their winters.
Through the lives of their great grandchildren unborn,
they wait, silent about their steep climbs and falls.

More by John Warner Smith


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?

Moving Men

Men of the moving company arrive
in gray crew neck shirts and hard-toe boots,
carrying dollies, ropes and quilts,
a few songs and small talk
to pass the time. They lift, pull
and raise, then sail the séance
of grit golden sands.
They pull cups, pour water,
and pass bread, potatoes and fried meat.
These cocoa-tinted, bred, burned,
branded and bull-whipped men
have barely begun to move.
It’s only morning. Give them a day.

Renaissance Man

After Liston, they fell like dominoes:
Folley, Terrell, Williams, Mildenberger,
London, Cooper, Chuvalo, and Patterson,
dizzied by his lightning quick jabs
and the waltz of his dazzling white shoes,
sparkling like chrome
as he bicycled across the canvas.

We stood witness to the creation
of modern day myth—Black Superman
from Krypton, Kentucky,
undefeated god of the ring,
clairvoyant and charismatic,
denigrating and taunting challengers

while staring into his crystal ball.

He wanted to go to heaven so I beat him in seven.
It ain’t no jive, he’ll go in five.
He might be great but he’ll fall in eight.

Ali vernacular.
Ali meter.
Ali rhyme.
Ali renaissance:
        black beauty,
        black ballet,
        black poetry
        on the wings of a butterfly,

with foot work, hand speed, and power
that whupped ass.