telemachus :: ocean vuong

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through white sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase. Because the city

beyond the shore is no longer
where we left it. Because the bombed

cathedral is now a cathedral
of trees. I kneel beside him to see how far

I might sink. Do you know who I am,
But the answer never comes. The answer

is the bullet hole in his back, brimming
with seawater. He is so still I think

he could be anyone’s father, found
the way a green bottle might appear

at a boy’s feet containing a year
he has never touched. I touch

his ears. No use. I turn him
over. To face it. The cathedral

in his sea-black eyes. The face
not mine—but one I will wear

to kiss all my lovers good-night:
the way I seal my father’s lips

with my own & begin
the faithful work of drowning.
Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2016)

toy boat :: ocean vuong

    For Tamir Rice

yellow plastic
black sea

eye-shaped shard
on a darkened map

no shores now
to arrive — or
no wind but
this waiting which
moves you

as if  the seconds
could be entered
& never left

toy boat — oarless
each wave
a green lamp

toy boat
toy leaf  dropped
from a toy tree

as if the sp-
thinning above you
are not
already pierced
by their own names

someday I’ll love ocean vuong :: ocean vuong

        After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves

Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red tripwire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty into.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer. Ocean. Ocean,
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
for skin.

from The New Yorker | listen

dear vietnam… :: ocean vuong

My dear Vietnam,

when I left you I could not speak.

A child could only watch as waves

melted from your burning shores

my face, an apparition.

On that day in that hut

you quietly soaked

my mother’s blood.

In your palms I breathed the world.

You must remember.

Vietnam, I can only tell you

through the courage allowed

by ink, paper, the infinite depths of whiteness.

My heart spills at the spout.

I write beneath banners whose stars

have lost their stitches, falling in pearls

of fire on the roofs along your spine.

If tears could wash

the blood within your roots

I would weep each night

I curl into cotton

and forget.

How thin you sleep, your fruit

poisoned with Orange, your rivers

blistered with the skulls

who lost their dreams.

I did not think of you, as I sucked

on lollipops and drooled

at Happy Meals. But did you know

I always saw your eyes inside

these filthy mirrors?

Forgive me; I have only traced

the path given. These eyes have learned

to melt when brushed

with the simplicity of pleasure.

As I filter through folds of memory,

hording your valleys, your forests, your people

into this skull’s dusty chamber,

there is too much left to be said

and no language to pronounce

our answers.

You and I, two shadows reaching

for the soles of feet. I bury these hands

into dirt, feeling for your whispers.

Cradled in my palms: a morsel of earth

that could be you. Here is a planet

intact through sinews of withered roots

and I

am the one to crumble.

From the Spring/Summer 2009 Issue of the Kartika Review. Sorry I couldn’t capture the correct line spacing! See the original here.