John Warner Smith

Songs We Never Heard

Why, in her dying days,
did my grandmother thank us 
for listening?  We hadn’t heard
the dew-drip taps of tears
that dropped to her pillow,

the thunder rumbling in her womb,
nor the curious soliloquy of cuss
and prayer that seethed through
her midnight-gritting teeth
as she paced the dusty hallways

dragging her feet with the burden
of hungry babies at her breasts
and Jim Crow on her shoulders.
We hadn’t heard the soft rattle
of beads streaming through

her coarse hands that ached
as she prayed and bled
as she pushed a plow
or spun the sewing wheel.
When the trumpet blew, we

gathered freshly-cut flowers,
spread like a mort cloth of silk,
scented of frankincense and myrrh,
and walked her path, worn
with the weariness of living.

Recounting her days, we hummed
her Sunday songs in the fading
glow of her last sunset.
But we never heard the blues
our old black mothers knew.