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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: January 2022
Poem: 345 words [R]
By John Warner Smith


Curtis was a Mama’s boy. 
He mostly stayed home, helping me 
care for his younger brothers. 
His favorite show was Sanford and Son. 
He loved to draw and would say, “Mama, 
one day I’m going to make you rich.” 

I told him not to leave the house, 
but he left anyway. When he didn’t come home, 
I went down the road looking for him, 
praying, “Please God, 
don’t let nobody have my child. 
Please, please God.” 

I was watching television, 
and saw them pull my baby out of the river. 
He had been missing for two weeks. 
When the Mayor came to say Curtis was dead, 
I ran out the front door. 

I couldn’t go to see my baby’s dead body. 
My sister said he couldn’t be recognized 
by his face. That night, I cut off all my hair, 
and I put a razor blade to my wrist, 
until I heard a deep voice say, 
“You’ve got to live for your other children.” 

At the funeral, all I could do was close my eyes 
and picture Curtis the last time I saw him, 
when he left to go down the street 
and carry groceries to earn a few dollars. 
All I could do was close my eyes 
and imagine his smile and laughter. 

I only have one photograph of Curtis. 
My kids took the others away 
to help me deal with the pain. 
For years, I slept with that photograph. 
Woke up holding it. 
Cooked with it in my bosom. 
Curtis will always be in my heart. 

For the past thirty-six years, I have 
dreamt of him. In the dream, 
he’s smiling and laughing, 
as if he’s in the room playing with his brothers, 
but I can’t see or remember his face. 
He’s there but not there, 
and I wake up praying, 
“God, show me his face.” 
I go walking down the road in tears, praying 
“God, show me his face.” 


Author’s note: This poem was found in statements made by Catherine Leach-Bell, the mother of Curtis Walker, during various media interviews.

—Published previously in Our Shut Eyes: New & Selected Poems on Race in America (MadHat Press, 2019) by John Warner Smith; appears here with his permission.

John Warner Smith
Issue 11, January 2022

began writing poetry while building a successful career as a public administrator and a banker. He is the author of five collections of poetry: Our Shut Eyes: New & Selected Poems on Race in America (MadHat Press, 2019), Muhammad’s Mountain (Lavender Ink, 2018), Spirits of the Gods (University of Louisiana Press, 2017), Soul Be A Witness (MadHat Press, 2016), and A Mandala of Hands (Kelsay Books; Aldrich Press, 2015). His first book-length manuscript was a finalist in the 2013 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award competition.

Smith’s poems have appeared in American Athenaeum, Antioch Review, Bloodroot Literary Magazine, Callaloo, Kestrel, North American Review, Ploughshares, Quiddity, Transition, Tupelo Quarterly, The Worcester Review, and numerous other literary journals. His poetry has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for the Sundress Best of the Net Anthology.

A Cave Canem Fellow, Smith earned his MFA in Creative Writing at the University of New Orleans. He was awarded the 2019 Linda Hodge Bromberg Poetry Award. In August 2019, he was appointed to a two-year term as Poet Laureate of Louisiana by Governor John Bel Edwards. In 2020, Smith was awarded a fellowship by the Academy of American Poets.

Author’s website: http://johnwarnersmith.com/

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

“Interview: John Warner Smith, Poet Laureate of Louisiana: The state’s former Secretary of Labor is now its Poet Laureate,” by Skye Jackson in French Quarter Journal (26 March 2020)

Two Poems plus poet’s Commentary in Issue 8 of KYSO Flash (August 2017), from Smith’s third collection, Spirits of the Gods, which was inspired by the paintings of Dennis Paul Williams

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