Taking My Father and Brother to The Frick

Derrick Austin

Disembark the Turners seem to say,
those starburst barges glowing in the dusk,
but I can’t read old Rembrandt,
his guarded eyes are jewels, like black men.
Even the loaned, marble busts
of kings and soldiers fail to arrest you.
It’s nearly closing time. The elderly linger,
rapt. Who has looked at either of you lately
with such tenderness?
                                      Entering the narrow hall,
I ignore my favorite portraits, their ruffles
and bodices, carnations and powder puffs,
afraid to share my joy with you,
yet your bearing in this space—the procession
of your shoulders, the crowns of your heads—
makes them sing anew.
                                      You are both good men. 
Walk into the Fragonard Room. You both seem bored still.
It’s fine. Perhaps we can progress like these panels,
slowly and without words, here—the city
where I first knew men in the dark—
in this gold and feminine room.

More by Derrick Austin

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.

Related Poems

Bone & Silence

   A long time passes—long even in the understanding of stone—and at last Bone feels entitled to speak to Silence. There are prerequisites: proper depth, aridity, desiccation, ph balance, density, and a kind of confidence. No loam: say salt, say dust, say southwest Utah. And when the conversation occurs it is understood on Bone's part what to expect from Silence, so one could say that expectations were low, but such is a pattern of our thinking, and in this case the entire dry dialectic is different, and in fact expectations were high. There is a moon shining, unknown to Bone, intimate with Silence. There are mammals overhead, the noise of whose small feet are perceived or unperceived.
   And after all this discursive talk, what at last does Bone say to Silence? What would you have Bone say to Silence? We could try Is there anywhere we can go for a beer? and that might get a little laugh, might qualify as ineffably human, almost religious. But we know better about Bone & Silence—need only look inside us, have the bravery to cease this chatter, this scrape of pencil on paper, to leave the rest of the book blank, get out of the way, let the conversation begin.