I only want what’s mine, a man thinks: his lawn
chairs, a mailbox, washed away. Nearby homes
don’t have welcome mats or windows. He can’t tell
what’s his anymore, all things nameless, muddied, and green.
Loss, like confusion or joy, fogs the eyes like gauze.
Anchored to a wall, the resurrection fern binds bricks
and soil and cypresses with peacock-colored foliage,
fronds unfurling like hands offering alms. He turned his nose to
the leaves, once; disaster the vicious cost for witness,
misplacing old things in old places
to make them new to our eyes. He walks off to claim his
broken belongings. He will forget
the fern, strong and discrete as charity. Diminished, it cloaks
stones and bridges, converting exhaust and bitter air
into virescence and breath.
Our Lady of the Sea
Not roses or a desert pink cloak
but a caftan of cockles and trawl nets.
Seaward and dark like my mother,
she raises a fist for grace. The tide
rushes in, rich with the eroded coast,
the stink of nitrates and oil. Come faithful,
take chrism from these waters.
From her alcove, the boats look like tombs
or empty palms. A toothless pier
grins at the Lady, gathering algae,
barnacles, and lost inner tubes.
Fifty-years-old, it crumples front end
first like a man done with his nine-to-five,
a headlong dive to a day of rest.
Rowboats rock in the gush of gulfweed.
Scum unnames Harper and the Eva Marie,
wavering on a shroud of algal bloom,
moored to this gray and tiny, impoverished world.
After the Storm Passes
A smoldering sky gives way
to fury: windows, peaked roofs,
stoned, a slow, clear judgment.
I shutter myself inside.
On the Weather Channel, palms
bend and snatch like slingshots.
The sea topples pink shacks.
Infrared maps plot the hurricane,
an unraveling heart—
nothing near remains untouched.
Ten years in the panhandle
I’ve had my share, Ivan, Charley.
Where shattered cedar stand
like ruins, pointing to their grounded
limbs, I’ll gather debris—
shingles, a laundry line, wayward
boxers, a scarlet branch—cutting
losses, after the storm has passed,
like everyone else from Galveston to Tampa,
because our vision only goes so far
so long, because we know wind
and waves punish us completely,
because we can see it coming.
Florida: Graduating from Niceville High School, writing my first poems, attending the University of Tampa, dancing in gay bars, losing my grandmother, voting in the 2008 election, meeting Jericho Brown, Henri Cole, Dorothy Allison, shooting the shit on the banks of the Hillsborough River with friends, my extended family.
I’ve lived on the Gulf Coast for nearly a decade, almost half my life. Yet, coming from a military family I’ve never claimed any state as home. Until now. So much of my formative years have taken place on this swath of water and sand. The landscape–primordial palms and ferns, shaggy live oaks, dragonflies threading the endless summer, the ocean–informs my poems, provides the language that maps my inner life.
I took the Gulf for granted. The Emerald Coast, the stretch of panhandle between Pensacola and Destin, was a given. It would always be there, radiant as ever.
Protect the water. Protect the land. Protect your home.
Nothing is a given.
Why is disaster always the vicious cost for witness?
Derrick Austin is an undergraduate English/Writing major at the University of Tampa. He is Editor-in-Chief of Quilt, its student literarymagazine. He received an honorable mention in the 2009 International Reginald Shepherd Memorial Poetry Prize contest. His work has appeared in Relief, where he received Editor’s Choice for Poetry, the Sigma Tau Delta Rectangle, and Ganymede.