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Derrick Austin


Birth Chart

Back home where the Gulf is historian

and time, it’s hurricane season:

don’t think I make light of water

barreling into homes, cane fields laid low—

it began like this for me you know,

rocking in the undertow of my mother,

sustained by what is flowing and free,

still able to breathe that water.

I was born in south Florida.

Storms were named. My father named me.

Charts for potential and charts for disaster.

I was one of many black children alive in America.

Hurricane Hugo ravaged the Antilles.

The sun was in Virgo and the moon in Cancer.

The Marina

           For years I wanted a veil

the color of gulls

           brightening this acre of sky,

veil as in shield and haven, as in

           service to a lord who, without harm,

           entrusts his hand to me, allows my body’s

intimacies and silence. I could be

           unsure without confession. There is a sound

within the sea—neither male nor female—

           that could be the sound

           of my body’s deep-aqua sway.

The wedding party returns.

           Boats, like the gulls, come close to me.

Someone says, This is heaven.

           And it can be. What do we know?

           I soak my feet and minnows shine,

exquisite beading

           on the hem of a garment that touches the world,

how desperately

           we consume the water and enter

           the water wishing to be consumed and

nothing changes

           A black couple camps by the water—

bubble and rush, flirt and withdraw—

           kissing, stroking their arms,

           dissolving what they perceive

into biography and flesh and dream.

           The younger man leans into the space between

his lover’s neck and shoulder and—

           hear the sermon of that old nihilist, the sea?—

they crane their heads and look toward the sun.

Derrick Austin Photo.jpg

Derrick Austin is the author of Trouble the Water (BOA Editions). He is a 2019-2021 Wallace Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.


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