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About this poet

Ocean Vuong was born in Saigon, Vietnam, and immigrated to the United States at the age of two. He received a BA from Brooklyn College, where he was awarded an Academy of American Poets college prize, and an MFA from New York University. He is the author of Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), which received the 2017 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection from the Forward Arts Foundation. Vuong has received numerous honors and awards, including a Lannan Literary Fellowship, a Pushcart Prize, a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship, and a Whiting Award. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Kissing in Vietnamese

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
falling apart.

Copyright © 2014 by Ocean Vuong. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Copyright © 2014 by Ocean Vuong. Reprinted from Split This Rock’s The Quarry: A Social Justice Poetry Database

Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong is the author of Night Sky with Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016), which was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award. He lives in New York City.

by this poet

poem

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

poem

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-