you are in the diode archives winter 2011



To Love Well

is to place a hand
 on another’s chest and know
 that the heart only beats
 when locked in a cage
 of bone.



Dawn cracks: a lightning bolt
carving slowly through the clouds.

All night I listened to your breath.
Even tasted your lips
when the moon turned you pale
as a corpse.
I haven’t killed a thing

since the morning
we followed gunshots into a field
peppered with sparrows. Remember
how their necks twitched
beneath our thumbs? Before twisting,
I took some time to feel

the rage of wings against palm,
marveling at such fierce resistance
to mercy. Perhaps
it was selfish—I couldn’t bear
the sound of wings
flying nowhere.

Darling, forgive me. When you wake
and begin to flutter in the emptiness
still warm from my whispers,
I will be too far
from this field
to wrap my hands around
that little bird
                       in your chest.


My Mother Remembers Her Mother

                 for Le Thi Lan (1941-2008)

My eyes close into a night
thickened with ash and jasmine,
mortar blasts lighting distance
into shocks of dawn.

In a room lit with light
from another house,
you lie alone
beneath a baby-faced G.I.
What you know as shame is forgotten
in the belly inside your belly.
Hunger neglects pride
the way fire neglects the cries
of what it burns.

Each soldier leaves you steeped
in what they cannot keep: liquor, salt
of lust, the pink dust
of shattered bodies.

There are men who carry dreams
over mountains, the dead
on their backs.
But only mothers
can walk with the weight
of a second beating heart.

Mẹ ơi When they ask me
where I’m from, I tell them
my song sleeps in the toothless mouth
of a war-woman, that a white man
rages in my veins, searching for his name.

I tell them I was born
because someone was starving.


In Defense of Poverty

Winter was closing in
on all sides of the city.
We held each other closer
before the oven’s mouth.

So much warmth flowed
across our bodies as we lay
for hours, listening to the rats
housed in the broken heater, their tails
tapping the night into music.

Darling, in that absolute darkness,
I studied the shape of your hollow
so to know a love without beauty.

Darling, in that absolute darkness,
why did you try to hide it when I knew,
by the way your finger curled
inside my palm, that you were smiling?  


Born in 1988 in Saigon, Vietnam, Ocean Vuong is the author of Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press 2010). He currently resides in New York City as an undergraduate English Major at Brooklyn College, CUNY. His poems have received an Academy of American Poets Prize, the Beatrice Dubin Rose Award, the Connecticut Poetry Society’s Al Savard Award, as well as two Pushcart Prize nominations. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.