Please help the Black Earth Institute continue to make art and grow community so needed for our time. Donate now »

a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society


John Warner Smith

Sometimes, when I’m the only black man in the room,
sitting under the soft, quiet glow of enlightenment,
talking about building an education system
to save mostly black children,
I feel what I felt one day in ninth grade
when I stood in a lunch line
and a slimy blob of spit hit the back of my neck
like a large, stinging rock,
and I turned around
to find a sea of white faces sneering back.
I feel what I felt years later
when a corporate recruiter said,
You’re the type we’d like to groom,
and I stepped out of the city’s tallest building,
wearing my blue pinstripe polyester suit,
carrying my vinyl attaché case, looking back
at a glass tower with carpet so plush
I’d kick my shoes off and think
I had arrived, until the day
my supervisor used the “n” word
when he saw a white cop beating
an old black man on a downtown street,
and I remembered a joke he told
weeks before: that when cops in Beaumont
arrested a drunk, vagrant black man
in the middle of the night
they sobered him up
by driving him ten miles
and dropping him off
at a curbside in Vidor,
where everybody was the Klan.
I feel what I felt and what my daddy
and every black man before us felt
at some time in our lives,
when a white man had something we needed
and we couldn’t get it
without stooping low, bending over
and casting down a bucket,
or just keeping our mouths shut.
John Warner Smith is a Cave Canem fellow whose first book, A Mandala of Hands, will be published in late 2014 by Aldrich Press. His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming in Ploughshares, Callaloo, Antioch Review, The Worcester Review, Fourteen Hills, Pembroke, Kestrel, African American Review, American Athenaeum and other literary journals. His 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 Creative Writing at Southern University in Baton Rouge. He earned his MFA at the University of New Orleans.


©2024 Black Earth Institute. All rights reserved.  |  ISSN# 2327-784X  |  Site Admin