Issue > Poetry
Derrick Austin

Derrick Austin

Derrick Austin is the author of Trouble the Water (BOA Editions). A Cave Canem fellow, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Best American Poetry, The Nation, Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion, New England Review, Gulf Coast, and other anthologies and publications. He was a finalist for the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award.


In bed, we are lavender together.
We watch the little theater of hours.

Walking her dogs, a black woman
Crosses our lakeside corner,

Hoop earrings
Echoing the birch's gold leaves.

You can be happy, you whisper,
As if a charm against eviction or some harm

We might inflict on each other.
For once, I don't hear you

From the room called
Memory. Open the window.

Risk, breath, our seasons,
Let them in. Let them in.


Tampa, FL

By now the rain must have stopped
rustling fronds, flowers, and live oak leaves,
the thunder quit its clattering across the sky.
By now the gulls abandon their eaves.
By now students, free from books,
gather on wet porches to debate the big issues
over shiraz. By now fashionable women
wander Hyde Park's jade avenues
for no reason other than their own pleasure.
By now sun-dazzled cars shimmer like champagne.
Together, in the state with the prettiest name,
the state where we are and always wish to be,
older than the others by far, its soil cool,
mutable, and dark like patience or wisdom,
the state into which we welcome
bride and groom, not only him and her, also you,
coming together like rivers whose course
need not be written. Cast your names
into the boundless Gulf—the tide, your refrain—
ever racing, ever run, renewing and renewed.

                    —for Mikey and Lexi

Let Them Be Not What They Were Made for

There are two men inside me, and they're not speaking. Well,
      one's dead—his body hardens in snow. Snow flutters over his face
like sheet music. The other man smells like wet dogs and iron.
      The landscape is what would unfashionably be called my soul.
The landscape is called Fathers and Lovers or Forbidden Princess.
      They've been at this for years. I don't want sounds or images
or metaphors anymore. Enough white-knuckling. Wilgefortis,
      with your strong arms like Christ, with your milk and wonder
like Christ, bring heaven down, briefly, sweetly now, where
      there are words for everything. A heaven wider than androgyny
like sugar on my tongue. Of the dead man, who will claim him?
      Was he ever a man? He's not unlike a tree now. If I can imagine
my own blossoms, listen for my rightful name and say it, then
      spring? Of the living man—the opposite of winter is the sea.

Little Epic

The capital is already underwater. The inside
of a sea god's lthroat or, maybe, his liver.
Let's take the boy in his rowboat. The only
survivor, let's say. Moonlight, stars, a good wind.
Black Aeneas without a father on his back.
Already the boy is a failure. His name
is Lyric. Emancipation unsettles him.
Who said liberty was a field of lavender
studded with bees? Who said it wasn't a sea?
Risk and Refusal, these will be the twins
that guide toward no empire.
Let there be a kind of Carthage for the boy,
illuminated not by fires of grief or betrayal,
rough harbor where he will be a man unbecoming.


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