John Warner Smith


Finding God


“If God’s with me, can’t nobody be against me,”
22-year old Cassius shouted to the world,
minutes after he became heavyweight champ.
The long journey that followed, a war
of flesh and spirit, was solely
and uniquely his: being the greatest
at his God-given gift, defining who he was,
not who others wanted him to be,
him climbing toward wholeness
and the realization of his ultimate self.

When he reached the steep summit
of the mountain, night had fallen.
Dark clouds blanketed the stars and moon.
His body had grown weak and frail,
barely standing up
in the slashing wind and rain.
His past life, the seconds and minutes
moving, the days and years
he had yet to live, vanished.
He felt small, insignificant, then
invisible as the air he inhaled.

But Ali the Muslim lived
the Epistle of the Apostle James.
Standing atop the mountain,
in the blindness of a bitter, wintry storm,
his feeble hands let go of the snowy rock
and took hold of faith, full of breath
and countless acts of kindness.
He knelt and prayed. He reached back
to lift up children, to comfort the sick,
and sprinkle a little joy on the world.




In the Wake


Rain pouring all day.
Tributes, photo shots, film footage.

He floats.
He jabs.
He whups ass.
He mouths off.
He rhymes.
He defies.
He lights a torch.

The Greatest is dead.

I can’t stop the rain.

Can’t stop remembering a boy
dreaming, shadowboxing,
shuffling feet—me
pretending to be






John Warner Smith has published three collections of poetry: Spirits of the Gods (UL Press, 2017), Soul Be A Witness (MadHat Press, 2016) and A Mandala of Hands (Aldrich Press, 2015). Smith’s fourth collection, Muhammad’s Mountain, is forthcoming in 2018. Smith’s poems have appeared in Ploughshares, Callaloo, Antioch Review, North American Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Transition, Quiddity, and numerous other literary journals. His poems have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes 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. His poetry can be found at