An American poet and essayist, Ocean Vuong is the recipient of the 2014 Ruth Lilly/Sargent Rosenberg fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. He was awarded the 2016 Whiting Award, and the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for poetry.
In today’s post, we will be reading some of the best poems by Ocean Vuong.
Poems by Ocean Vuong
Here are excerpts from 11 poems by Ocean Vuong.
“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.”
“We made it, baby.
We’re riding in the back of the black
limousine. They have lined
the road to shout our names.
They have faith in your golden hair
& pressed grey suit.
They have a good citizen
in me. I love my country.
I pretend nothing is wrong.
I pretend not to see the man
& his blond daughter diving
for cover, that you’re not saying
my name & it’s not coming out
like a slaughterhouse.
I’m not Jackie O yet
& there isn’t a hole in your head, a brief
rainbow through a mist
of rust. I love my country
but who am I kidding? I’m holding
your still-hot thoughts in,
darling, my sweet, sweet
Jack. I’m reaching across the trunk
for a shard of your memory,
the one where we kiss & the nation
glitters. Your slumped back.
Your hand letting go. You’re all over
the seat now, deepening
my fuchsia dress. But I’m a good
citizen, surrounded by Jesus
& ambulances. I love
this country. The twisted faces.
My country. The blue sky. Black
limousine. My one white glove
glistening pink—with all
our American dreams.”
“When we left it, the city was still smoldering. Otherwise it was a perfect spring morning. White hyacinths gasped in the embassy lawn. The sky was September-blue and the pigeons went on pecking at bits of bread scattered by the bombed bakery. Broken baguettes. Crushed croissants. Gutted cars. A carousel spinning its blackened horses. He said the shadow of missiles growing larger on the sidewalk looked like god playing an air piano above us.”
“God must be a season, grandma said, looking out at the blizzard drowning
My footsteps on the sidewalk were the smallest flights.
Dear god, if you are a season, let it be the one I passed through
to get here.
Here. That’s all I wanted to be.
“Tell me it was for the hunger
& nothing less. For hunger is to give
the body what it knows
it cannot keep. That this amber light
whittled down by another war
is all that pins my hand to your chest.”
“It’s more like the sound
a doe makes
when the arrowhead
replaces the day
with an answer
to the rib’s hollowed
Suggested read: The Archipelago of Kisses And Other Poems By Jeffrey McDaniel
Instead, let it be the echo to every footstep
drowned out by rain, cripple the air like a name
flung onto a sinking boat, splash the kapok’s bark
through rot & iron of a city trying to forget
the bones beneath its sidewalks, then through
the refugee camp sick with smoke & half-sung
hymns, a shack rusted black & lit with Bà Ngoại’s
last candle, the hogs’ faces we held in our hands
& mistook for brothers, let it enter a room illuminated
with snow, furnished only with laughter, Wonder Bread
& mayonnaise raised to cracked lips as testament
to a triumph no one recalls, let it brush the newborn’s
flushed cheek as he’s lifted in his father’s arms, wreathed
with fishgut & Marlboros, everyone cheering as another
brown gook crumbles under John Wayne’s M16, Vietnam
burning on the screen, let it slide through their ears,
clean, like a promise, before piercing the poster
of Michael Jackson glistening over the couch, into
the supermarket where a Hapa woman is ready
to believe every white man possessing her nose
is her father, may it sing, briefly, inside her mouth,
before laying her down between jars of tomato
& blue boxes of pasta, the deep-red apple rolling
from her palm, then into the prison cell
where her husband sits staring at the moon
until he’s convinced it’s the last wafer
god refused him, let it hit his jaw like a kiss
we’ve forgotten how to give one another, hissing
back to ’68, Ha Long Bay: the sky replaced
with fire, the sky only the dead
look up to, may it reach the grandfather fucking
the pregnant farmgirl in the back of his army jeep,
his blond hair flickering in napalm-blasted wind, let it pin
him down to dust where his future daughters rise,
fingers blistered with salt & Agent Orange, let them
tear open his olive fatigues, clutch that name hanging
from his neck, that name they press to their tongues
to relearn the word live, live, live—but if
for nothing else, let me weave this deathbeam
the way a blind woman stitches a flap of skin back
to her daughter’s ribs. Yes—let me believe I was born
to cock back this rifle, smooth & slick, like a true
Charlie, like the footsteps of ghosts misted through rain
as I lower myself between the sights—& pray
that nothing moves.
My grandmother kisses
as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,
where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes
through the kitchen window,
as if somewhere, a body is falling apart
and flames are making their way back
through the intricacies of a young boy’s thigh,
as if to walk out the door, your torso
would dance from exit wounds.
When my grandmother kisses, there would be
no flashy smooching, no western music
of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe
you inside her, nose pressed to cheek
so that your scent is relearned
and your sweat pearls into drops of gold
inside her lungs, as if while she holds you
death also, is clutching your wrist.
My grandmother kisses as if history
never ended, as if somewhere
a body is still
You are standing in the minefield again.
Someone who is dead now
told you it is where you will learn
to dance. Snow on your lips like a salted
cut, you leap between your deaths, black as god’s
periods. Your arms cleaving little wounds
in the wind. You are something made. Then made
to survive, which means you are somebody’s
son. Which means if you open your eyes, you’ll be back
in that house, beneath a blanket printed with yellow sailboats.
Your mother’s boyfriend, his bald head ringed with red
hair, like a planet on fire, kneeling
by your bed again. Air of whiskey & crushed
Oreos. Snow falling through the window: ash returned
from a failed fable. His spilled-ink hand
on your chest. & you keep dancing inside the minefield—
motionless. The curtains fluttering. Honeyed light
beneath the door. His breath. His wet blue face: earth
spinning in no one’s orbit. & you want someone to say Hey… Hey
I think your dancing is gorgeous. A little waltz to die for,
darling. You want someone to say all this
is long ago. That one night, very soon, you’ll pack a bag
with your favorite paperback & your mother’s .45,
that the surest shelter was always the thoughts
above your head. That it’s fair—it has to be—
how our hands hurt us, then give us
the world. How you can love the world
until there’s nothing left to love
but yourself. Then you can stop.
Then you can walk away—back into the fog
-walled minefield, where the vein in your neck adores you
to zero. You can walk away. You can be nothing
& still breathing. Believe me.
“The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world.”
“Rush-hour on the A rain. A blind man
staggers forth, his cane tapping lightly
own the aisle. He leans against the door,
raises a violin to chin, and says I’m sorry
to bother you, folks. But please. Just listen.
And it kills me, the word sorry. As if something like music
should be forgiven. He nuzzles into the wood like a lover,
inhales, and at the first slow stroke, the crescendo
seeps through our skin like warm water, we
who have nothing but destinations, who dream of light
but descend into the mouths of tunnels, searching.
Beads of sweat fall from his brow, making dark roses
on the instrument. His head swooning to each chord
exhaled through the hollow torso. The woman beside me
has put down her book, closed her eyes, the baby
has stopped crying, the cop has sat down, and I know
this train is too fast for dreaming, that these iron jaws
will always open to swallow a smile already lost.
How insufficient the memory, to fail before death.
how will hear these notes when the train slides
into the yard, the lights turned out, and the song
lingers with breaths rising from empty seats?
I know I am too human to praise what is fading.
But for now, I just want to listen as the train fills
completely with warm water, and we are all
swimming slowly toward the man with Mozart
flowing from his hands. I want nothing
but to put my fingers inside his mouth,
let that prayer hum through my veins.
I want crawl into the hole in his violin.
I want to sleep there
until my flesh
Suggested read: Vocabulary And Other Brilliant Poems By Jason Schneiderman
This is all we have on today’s post on the best works by Ocean Vuong. This is, however, not an exhaustive list, and if we have missed out on some of your favorites, then please feel free to add them in the comment section below.
Until next time!
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