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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: January 2022
Poem: 144 words [R]
By John Warner Smith

Memorial Drive

If, forty years ago, you walked 
   Atlanta’s Memorial Drive, 
      carefree and without fear, 

with all your senses on fire 
   as you strolled slowly 
      through the sights and sounds 

of a city street, and 
   you were lulled into a state of bliss 
      by the dazzling brightness 

of day, feeling the future 
   stretch before you, 
      like a mirage shimmering 

where the asphalt rolled, 
   as if you could reach out and hold 
      every unlived hour and day 

in your hands and take 
   control of your life, 
      seeing beyond every turn 

and making the crooked paths 
   straight; and if, suddenly, 
      the sun vanished 

inside a blanketing, gray cloud 
   and a black boy walked 
      toward you, slowly 

and close enough 
   that you saw the pain 
      and desperation in his eyes, 

can you honestly say you saw 
   him, or did his form and future 
      drown with the light? 


—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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