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Derrick Austin

Derrick Austin was born in Homestead, Florida. He received a BA from the University of Tampa and, in 2014, an MFA from the University of Michigan. He is the author of Trouble the Water (BOA Editions, 2016), selected by Mary Szybist for the 2015 A. Poulin Jr. Prize. A Cave Canem fellow, he currently serves as the 2016–2017 Ron Wallace Poetry Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute of Creative Writing.

By This Poet

2

Taking My Father and Brother to The Frick

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.

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.