6.12 / October 2011

Three Poems

I Touch Myself

listen to this poem

I touch myself
in the dark
as a plane hums above,
pregnant with death.

I touch myself
as starlight sparkles
on the surface
of falling bombs.

I reach down, searching
for warmth, something
to hold and believe in.

I reach down, searching
for music. I play this body
like a broken chord, my fingers
raw with tethered thrums-

Because there’s always music
in explosions muted
by climaxes.
Always life
in the Holy Water flowing
between my thighs-

Let me not believe
in one god dying.
Let me not regret
the failure to love
and be loved,

to crush
the last sparrow in my fist
when the song is not enough-
is never enough.

Let me writhe and shudder
in the cold sheets, nameless
and ecstatic, a beast
buckling in the throes
of gunshot lullabies.

All my life poured
into one pulsing cell, I burst
out of myself, piercing
through ceilings and walls,
the fragile borders
of spoken secrets.

Glowing from the stolen light
of tarnished empires, I soar
across a night thick with smoke
and diminished hymns.

Because even now,
a thousand I love you’s
are not enough
to touch the bomber
caressing the trigger’s
black tongue.

Because even now,
as I shoot across
this city shimmering
from shards of broken halos,
I am not holy-

all I ever wanted
was to be a fragment of light
trembling on the neck
of a beautiful boy.


Home from work, my mother sits
at the kitchen table, guiding my hand
along the alphabet. A B C
This is as far as she knows, so we begin
again. A B C

I want to get it right.
But my eyes are fixed
on the few strands of hair
matted on her cheek.
Strange, how a day’s hours
can unveil the years
across a face.

Even now, the nail salon
will not leave her. The acrid scent
of acetone and sweat
fumes from her pores, her clothes.
I will come to know this odor
as love. I will press my face
to the bosom where it blooms.

And although pruned and raw,
my mother’s hands are beautiful
as their knuckles whiten
into sharp peaks, each letter
carved into promise.

I watch the blood recede
beneath her nails and the pad
begins to tear. Until the pencil
finally snaps-the C bursting
into dark terrors across the page.

My mother’s hands are mine
as she holds a jagged shard
before my eyes, saying softly

With this, sweetheart,
you will save yourself
from becoming a dog.

Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome

They say the first portrait was made
from grief: some crazed girl tracing
her lover’s shadow on the eve of war.

Is it possible, then, to mourn
for the living? My hands trembled
as I guided the marker along
the darkness cast by your life.

You smiled, said Make me pretty.
I didn’t have the heart to tell you
I’m no good at drawing songs.

Of course, you did not return
from that war inside you.
The ink has since faded.

Your body blurring into vespers.
But darling, how to erase
the cracks on the wall

where I kissed you goodnight?

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
6.12 / October 2011