The Lost Woods as Elegy for Black Childhood

There used to be no one here,
where cypresses and oaks play
shadow puppets on sawgrass.

You heard the music before
I did: tambourines, pan pipes.
Remember how I woke clean

to meet you each morning?
The dew and the dust?
Remember how you’d catch me

as I fell from trees? Someone
heard and hurt us. I’m Black-Eyed
Pea. You’re just Skull Kid.

We wanted our genius to last.
We never wanted chalkboards
or snow. We never came home

before the streetlights buzzed.
All we do is dance in leaves.
Cackle and Dreaming, we call it.

Our mothers call it grief.


Copyright © 2016 by Derrick Austin. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on September 27, 2016, by the Academy of American Poets.

About this Poem

“In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, a video game I loved as a child, the lost woods is a maze-like level full of music that transformed children who wandered in into monsters known as skull kids. Though they were trapped forever, they always looked like they were having fun playing flutes and being tricksters. I wrote this poem thinking about Korryn Gaines’s son, thinking about the nightmare of racial violence and about what space allows black children to dream and play without fear."
—Derrick Austin