John Warner Smith

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John Warner Smith
 
 
Gazing
 
One King Holiday, I wheeled you
to the nursing home patio.
Drifting in and out of your blank stare,
I read Trethewey’s “Southern History,”
recalling the year at Rosteet Junior High
when Ms. Troutman, the Civics teacher,
said Hoover was right to call King
a Communist. That was a lie,
I knew, but enough to make
Hugh Morton and his pals hate more.

That year, the one before King’s death,
a bad spine kept you home
for weeks. On those mornings,
I rose early to cook two eggs for you
over easy. Keeping the flame low
and blue beneath the old black skillet,
I dragged the spatula slowly
to gather the frothing butter,
careful not to break the yolk
nor harden the thin white.
Across town, Mama’s polished
corn-slit shoes and air-dried nylon dress
had already stained with grease
from Mr. Woody’s hot oven broiler.

Daddy, gazing into your eyes,
the longleaf swaying
as the sun’s yolk peeked
through gray clouds behind you,
I wondered if I’d ever really known
the burden you bore:
a black man living in the South.
 
 
 
John Warner Smith is a Cave Canem fellow whose poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Callaloo, The Worcester Review, Fourteen Hills, Pembroke, Kestrel, African American Review, American Athenaeum and other literary journals. His full-length manuscript was a finalist in the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award competition. A resident of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, he directs a statewide organization dedicated to improving public education. He also teaches English and African American Literature at Southern University in Baton Rouge. He earned his MFA at the University of New Orleans.

 

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