poets.org

11

poem-a-day

poem-a-day
Sign up to receive an unpublished poem every day in your inbox.
today's poet
Ocean Vuong
Ocean Vuong

Self-Portrait as Exit Wounds

About this Poem 

“I wrote this poem as a response to how brown and yellow bodies are often depicted, or rather, written over, in Western literature. I wanted to reclaim that narrative while still signaling the legacy of violence and reductive portrayal of Asian bodies by Western writers. The poem traces the path of a bullet, depicting the ruptures it creates not as endings, but as points of remembering, therefore re-suturing a narrative made possible only through (and because of) loss. I wanted, ultimately, to acknowledge that the life of displacement is inextricable from violence, and yet in spite of that, a story about survival can still be told.”
—Ocean Vuong

Self-Portrait as Exit Wounds

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.

From Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, published by Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2016 by Ocean Vuong. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

From Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, published by Copper Canyon Press. Copyright © 2016 by Ocean Vuong. Used with permission of Copper Canyon Press.

National Poetry Month 2017 Poster
Writing from the Absence
poem

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I've got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history's shame
I rise
Up from a past that's rooted in pain
I rise
I'm a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that's wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.
Maya Angelou
1978
collection

Classic Books of American Poetry

This collection of books showcases the masterpieces of American poetry that have influenced—or promise to influence—generations of poets. Take a look.

collection

A Poet's Glossary

Read about poetic terms and forms from Edward Hirsch's A Poet's Glossary (Harcourt, 2014), a book ten years in the making that defines the art form of poetry.  

advertisement
Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve
Robert Lowell's "Epilogue" Manuscript
poem

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Anne Sexton
1981
collection

Robert Lowell: A Centennial Celebration

This year marks the centennial of Robert Lowell, who was born on March 1, 1917, in Boston. Known for his somber, deeply personal poetry that grew out of the tradition of form poems, Lowell helped shape the story of modern American poetry with works such as Lord Weary’s Castle (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946), for which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, and his watershed collection Life Studies (Faber and Faber, 1959). In celebration of Lowell, his life, and his legacy, we’ve compiled this collection of poems, essays, and ephemera featuring the poet.