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

Section 2

John Warner Smith

John Warner Smith

A Stranger Loss
(for Stephen W. Cavanaugh)

I seldom think about the river
that sleeps beside the city,
but I shun crossing its tallest bridge.
Today, I climbed it
in a chrome-polished black limousine,
thinking about my uneven cuffs
and clumsily pinned boutonniere,
wondering why someone stood
strangely at the top on the ledge.
I recalled a day that broke
months ago, when I sat
looking down on a different city—
lush hills, steep streets, a scent of fish
and sea to dream by.
Suddenly, an email: Steve Cavanaugh
has pancreatic cancer.
Doctors give him three to six months.

Steve, in that choked-breath moment,
a distant foghorn
lifted wayward stars
we often searched sitting
like logs splintering in a dying fire
our generation had been given to kindle.
In twenty years of friendship,
I never knew your political party
and didn’t hear your recitations
of Chaucer and Seuss.
Through all our God-talk
and bush-burning muse,
I never knew where you worshipped.
Until today, when they covered you
in a bed of irises west of the river,
I had not cried the loss of anyone
of a race other than my own.

John Warner Smith is a Cave Canem fellow whose first book, A Mandala of Hands, was published by Aldrich Press in 2015. His second book is forthcoming from MatHat Press. Smith’s 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. Smith’s poems have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and the Sundress Best of the Net Anthology. Smith earned his MFA at the University of New Orleans. He teaches English at Southern University in Baton Rouge. His poetry can be found at


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