Two Poems

Poetry / Derrick Austin

Cumberland Island

It was the Spanish or
                                        English who brought these famous horses
when this place was called Florida,
                                                            whose descendants
still gallop on this Georgia coast and lean their muzzles into cordgrass.
                                                                      How many generations does it take
to become feral, to be no longer broken in?
Shining trunks, waist-high grasses, light
                              knotting mossy limbs. Resin on your fingers and salt
                                                                      on mine.
Looking at this guide book’s sepia wildlife photos,
you’d never know anyone lived here before the horses.
                                        The Mocama didn’t find them useful.
Lapping water under slash pines, the horses jolt, moving me
toward a joy I did not give myself
                                                            room to consider
trying my damnedest to live
                                                            in this vulgar country
bracketed by water—

Paolo Uccello’s Birds

It must have been about sacrifice,
a parable of sorts within the art. Why else
would Uccello, who so loved birds
as to have sketched their wings,
never paint one? His name meant Humble
Bird. No place for fluttering gloss
in rendering plain our linear perspective.
All recede into mathematical dark.
No space for swallows between lances
in The Battle of San Romano. So much tension
in all that Roman stillness: the banners
of nations and gold-plated weapons free of the gore
vultures will eat when they come
like grief and art from somewhere just outside our vision.

Derrick Austin is the author of Trouble the Water (BOA Editions). A Cave Canem fellow, his work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2015, Image: A Journal of Arts and Religion, New England Review, Nimrod, and other anthologies and publications. He was a finalist for the 2017 Kate Tufts Discovery Award.