Back to Issue Thirty-Three

In the Decadence of Silence



after Diedrick Brackens’s exhibition darling divined

I saw once, at a black sand beach, men coming out of the sea,
black men coming into and out of the sea,

as if they were looking for something, grace maybe, something harsh and small
as the grains of black sand that fell from my body for weeks,

and these men were not vexed in their looking
and seemed happy, blissful even, in their gorgeous company.

A dolphin lept from the water. Gulls piped up. Freighters in distant fog.
I was born under the sign of anxiety and pleasure.

All I cared for was the men’s laughter and the way one reached
for the hand of another coming ashore, the stretch when sand pulls at your feet

and the rough surf is against you. They held each other by the waist.
They teased and shoved. They wiped salt from each other’s eyes.

One man returned with a cup and seeing me alone
offered it, beckoned with that sea-saved chalice.

And it must have been filled with salt water. And it must have been
a bitter, grainy drink. And it must not have been good.

It would have driven me to madness to live on it. I thought it
might be sweet, but I would not take the cup. From the cliffs

the gods of death and desire watched. But they were not gods.
They were palm trees, dark and still,

until they leaned east in the wind. And then were still again.


Derrick Austin is the author of Trouble the Water (BOA Editions). A Cave Canem fellow, his work has appeared in Best American Poetry, Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion, New England Review, The Nation, and Tin House. He was a finalist for the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He is a 2019-2021 Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University.


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