5.06 / June 2010


listen to this poem

Because we were boys,
I could only touch you in the dark.
Where we pretended the sins
promised by our fathers
could not find us.

In the path of trembling hands,
the hair on our thighs rose
against the night, and I dreamed
the extraordinary things
light would do to the parts I touched:
tuft of hair, silk of foreskin, the wet pearl
emerging from its sheath.

As I tasted myself inside your mouth,
the breath’s warm blooming,
as those fig leaves lay torn by our feet,
somewhere, someone was beginning to sing.

I had to touch my lips
to know that hymn was mine.


listen to this poem

In a room illuminated
by a streak of semen
suspended between me
and the grace you will become,
I realize: I do not need the moon
to dance in darkness.
Skin absorbed sunlight
and held it, so this ribbon of climax
can exert its faint glow—just enough
to make visible
the iris of your eyes.
The ceiling has dissolved,
the stars forgot their duties
as constellations and fell,
dusting our shoulders
with the swirl of galaxies.
With fingers, we sweep the curves
of our cheeks, bless tongues
with drops of salt and silver.
Tonight, the walls are crumbling,
we no longer have names.
Tonight, we become at last
the tasters of light.

The Prodigal Son’s Lament

Father, after I told you I made love
with my name smeared across
another man’s lips, I began to burn

slowly in the spaces untouched
by your voice. For years, I reached for you
through letters returned unopened,

now yellowing at the edges. They say
you’re somewhere in California, trying
to force your name into another woman’s womb.

Everyday, I carry the weight of your refusal
down the dusty road of memory, to a room
where your belt licked my back

into raw cords of manhood, my mouth singed
with first blood as I bit the tongue you gave me.
Why, as I lie beside the man I will marry,

does the body ache for your hands?
Why does it rage through insomniac nights
itching for the threads of your voice

to strangle the songs of morning birds?
Father, I want to be bad again.
The things I would give, the bodies

I would refuse, to feel your knuckles
relearn the curve of my cheek, split skin
into crimson fissures, to smell your sweat

as you break my bones—anything
to come as close as we were
when you held your battered boy

in your arms and whispered something
like forgiveness. I do not regret you.
Even if you tell them

your first son played with fire
and burned into a dark vestige
on the horizon,

you can never forget
my finger sliding into your palm
as we braved the clean sunlight

for ice cream, my back still tender
with your gift of love and mercy.
If we do not speak or touch

again, or when your mouth
can no longer twist into the shape
of my name, when I am nothing

but ash on your tongue,
I will never leave you. After all, father,
it is almost a promise

that what we will always have
is something
we lost.

Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Ocean Vuong is the author of the chapbook BURNINGS (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010) and is currently an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, CUNY. He was a semi-finalist for the 2011 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award and has received an Academy of American Poets award, the Connecticut Poetry Society’s Al Savard Award, as well as four Pushcart Prize nominations. Poems appear in RHINO, diode, Lantern Review, Softblow, Crate, and PANK, among others. He keeps a blog at www.oceanvuong.blogspot.com