And this is how we danced: our mothers’
white dresses spilling from our feet, late August
turning our hands dark red. And this is how we loved:
a fifth of vodka and an afternoon in the attic, your fingers
sweeping through my hair—my hair a wildfire.
We covered our ears and your father’s tantrum turned
to heartbeats. When our lips touched the day closed
into a coffin. In the museum of the heart
there are two headless people building a burning house.
There was always the shotgun above
the fireplace. Always another hour to kill—only
to beg some god to return the seconds. If not the attic,
the car. If not the car, the dream. If not the boy, his clothes.
If not alive, put down the phone. Because the year
is a distance we’ve traveled in circles. Which is to say:
this is how we danced: alone in sleeping bodies.
Which is to say: this is how we loved: a knife on the tongue
turning into a tongue.
First published in Linebreak, August 2012
Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Ocean Vuong is the author of two chapbooks: NO (YesYes Books, 2013) and BURNINGS (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010), which was selected by the American Library Association’s “Over The Rainbow” list of recommended LGBT reading. A Kundiman Fellow, he is a recipient of a 2012 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize, an Academy of American Poets Prize, as well as six Pushcart Prize nominations. Poems appear in American Poetry Review, Verse Daily, Southern Indiana Review, Guernica, Poetry Northwest and Drunken Boat, amongst others.