National Poetry Month Day 16: Derrick Austin






Terror infests the heart like hornets
which breed in a miasma of violence,
whose brood vomit a sugar substance
            for the nest—
            no room for a friend.


Black Dandy

Under the shaggy honeysuckle, its sweet bruised heat,
its migraine of scent, I remember
the first time I tasted a flower: playing with the other kids,
we beset whole shrubs
with our sticky silly hands. We pretended
to be knights, carried a stolen cabbage we called Old Pilgrim,
and took turns holding the head
until it fell apart. Even though it rained that morning,
the sky was bright and the air
humid in the shade of trees we played under.
When one of the boys scraped himself, I split dandelions
and rubbed the milky halves into the cuts on his knee.
I often didn’t look them in the eyes, jealous
of their eagerness to rejoin the others and climb a new branch.
In my bedroom that night, listening to Phyllis Hyman,
I admired my quartz collection.
I finish my slurry of gin and ice.
The pills that rescue my mind make sleep difficult.
Palm trees like glaives. Wind from the east. Overhead,
white and yellow flowers shift one way, another if I turn my face.


Photograph of Derrick Austin by Danny Montemayor.

Derrick Austin is the author of Tenderness, forthcoming from BOA Editions in fall 2021, and Trouble the Water (BOA Editions). He is a 2019-2021 Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University. More from this author →