In a country where violence and the threat of violence is a constant weather for queer black people, where can the spirit rest?
With lush language, the meditative poems in the Isabella Gardner Award-winning Tenderness examine the fraught nature of intimacy in a nation poisoned by anti-Blackness and homophobia. From the bedroom to the dance floor, from the natural world to The Frick, from Florida to Mexico City, the poems range across interior and exterior landscapes. They look to movies, fine art, childhood memory, history, and mental health with melancholy, anger, and playfulness.
Even amidst sorrow and pain, Tenderness uplifts communal spaces as sites of resistance and healing, wonders at the restorative powers of art and erotic love, and celebrates the capaciousness of friendship.
When we finally make it, we sit on cold stones.
The river curling over and under our feet
even colder. His secret place.
The air has that early fall smell, things beginning
to rot, the wet soil nourishing itself.
Anything could happen
to me in this white ass town. I’m terrified
if he knows that and terrified if he doesn’t.
My body is puffy, unremarkable.
I’ve grown distant and sullen.
A witch told me gin placates the dead.
Whose dead have I been trying to drown
drinking my own elegy?
He asks if I’m happy, and I say yes. See how easy it is
to get here, he says. Yes,
I say. But you have to take me back.
Praise for Trouble the Water
“In Austin’s hands, the exquisite can be ominous while the grotesque can turn charming, and his poems wisely assert that the world is unforgiving and yet full of mercy—that one can question beauty and yet still be beholden to it.”
“This is quite simply one of the most charged commentaries on race, sex, and film I have ever read, and the form never lets us forget what we’re talking about.”
“Precise and focused, Austin’s language often seems ekphrastic, as though he had a picture in front of him as he writes. In a few of the poems, he clearly does, but it is his voice and vision, not his method, that are ekphrastic.”
“For the gay black body, the gay black speaker who is the main voice of this book, there is no separating racist interactions from homophobic ones. Articulations of danger and desire, passion and pain—interactions with the white world, the straight world—are expressed through the murkiness of prejudice, of the compounded baggage of seemingly mutually exclusive histories.”
—Los Angeles Review of Books