KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 8: August 2017
Poems: 87 words
163 words
Commentary: 227 words

Two Poems

by John Warner Smith

Inner Space

The loss of my father’s memory of me didn’t hurt
nearly as much as my having him arrested, 
locked down, and made to walk like a zombie, 
	wandering hallways and pulling on locked doors
	that he thought would take him home.

In that space, I believed

he discovered his own planet,
without humans, streets, and animals 
he had once known.
But who’s to say 
	he didn’t talk with extraterrestrials,
	didn’t see and hear angels
	singing his favorite zydeco songs?

Who’s to say he didn’t love?


Wise Old Men

In my family, many women grow old, 
but men die much sooner, taken by disease or violence.
We have no men who grow long, gray beards
and walk slowly with wooden canes. 
Few have hands that ache and tremble,
and hold the world of our children in them. 

When our rivers turn to blood, 
our men have no rods to strike a rock, 
give us water and keep the fish from dying.
They have no night dreams that foretell 
our days. No stories told 
	of chanting drums howling with wolves, 
	blistering feet of slaves running the snowy woods, 
	blood dripping from their flesh-torn backs,
	blind men reading the stars, 
	men bending rail iron with bare hands,
	and fighting with tongues of fire.

For certain, we have strong men, 
but they bloom like spring flowers, wildly,
with only an ounce of tending. 
No one says what this means for our future,
these fields of fallen branches,
these breathing, talking books—silenced.


Commentary by John Warner Smith

These poems are from my third collection, Spirits of the Gods (forthcoming this fall from the University of Louisiana Press), which is also a collection of paintings by Dennis Paul Williams. Each of the 32 poems in the book was inspired by a painting by Dennis. For a sample of his work, see five images from Soul Exchange, his multiple-award-winning collection of paintings.

Dennis’s work is very spiritually grounded, and Jung is more of an influence on these new poems than on any I’ve written before. In Spirits of the Gods, I’ve tried to focus on unconscious archetypal forces (anima, animus, shadow, self, family, wise figures, hero, demons, etc.) in practical they actually play out in human experience and history. When a writer is creating “in the spirit,” as I was last summer when meditating on art by Dennis every week, stuff comes out that seems and sounds irrational. Weird might be a better way to describe it. And you know that even as one writes, the world is turning. The gods and demons aren’t sleeping. So some of the poems were inspired by local, national, even global events that happened last summer. Each painting is unique and each poem is unique, but there is a definite spiritual/psychological underpinning, which I think readers will feel most deeply when they see the art and poetry together.

John Warner Smith
Issue 8, August 2017

is the author of two collections of poetry: Soul Be A Witness (MadHat Press, 2016) and A Mandala of Hands (Aldrich Press, 2015). His third collection, Spirits of the Gods, is forthcoming in September 2017 from University of Louisiana Press. Smith’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Callaloo, Antioch Review, North American Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Transition, 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 teaches English, African American Literature, and Creative Writing at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Since November 2007, he has directed Education’s Next Horizon, a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to reforming public education in Louisiana.

Read more of his poems at

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Cries Beyond the Mountains (For Haiti’s Children), from Kestrel (Fall 2013) and reprinted in Smith’s collection A Mandala of Hands (Aldrich Press, 2015)

Zydeco on Dog Hill, from Ploughshares (Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 2013) and reprinted in A Mandala of Hands

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