John Warner Smith

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.