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 mother ship,
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.
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?
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.