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.
You do not do, you do not do
Any more, black shoe
In which I have lived like a foot
For thirty years, poor and white,
Barely daring to breathe or Achoo.
Daddy, I have had to kill you.
You died before I had time—
Marble-heavy, a bag full of God,
Ghastly statue with one gray toe
Big as a Frisco seal
And a head in the freakish Atlantic
Where it pours bean green over blue
In the waters off beautiful Nauset.
I used to pray to recover you.
In the German tongue, in the Polish town
Scraped flat by the roller
Of wars, wars, wars.
But the name of the town is common.
My Polack friend
Says there are a dozen or two.
So I never could tell where you
Put your foot, your root,
I never could talk to you.
The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.
Ich, ich, ich, ich,
I could hardly speak.
I thought every German was you.
And the language obscene
An engine, an engine
Chuffing me off like a Jew.
A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.
I began to talk like a Jew.
I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna
Are not very pure or true.
With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck
And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack
I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,
With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.
And your neat mustache
And your Aryan eye, bright blue.
Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You—
Not God but a swastika
So black no sky could squeak through.
Every woman adores a Fascist,
The boot in the face, the brute
Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,
In the picture I have of you,
A cleft in your chin instead of your foot
But no less a devil for that, no not
Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.
I was ten when they buried you.
At twenty I tried to die
And get back, back, back to you.
I thought even the bones would do.
But they pulled me out of the sack,
And they stuck me together with glue.
And then I knew what to do.
I made a model of you,
A man in black with a Meinkampf look
And a love of the rack and the screw.
And I said I do, I do.
So daddy, I'm finally through.
The black telephone's off at the root,
The voices just can't worm through.
If I've killed one man, I've killed two—
The vampire who said he was you
And drank my blood for a year,
Seven years, if you want to know.
Daddy, you can lie back now.
There's a stake in your fat black heart
And the villagers never liked you.
They are dancing and stamping on you.
They always knew it was you.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I'm through.
12 October 1962
From The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath, published by Harper & Row. Copyright © 1981 by the Estate of Sylvia Plath. Used with permission.
Out here, there’s a bowing even the trees are doing.
Winter’s icy hand at the back of all of us.
Black bark, slick yellow leaves, a kind of stillness that feels
so mute it’s almost in another year.
I am a hearth of spiders these days: a nest of trying.
We point out the stars that make Orion as we take out
the trash, the rolling containers a song of suburban thunder.
It’s almost romantic as we adjust the waxy blue
recycling bin until you say, Man, we should really learn
some new constellations.
And it’s true. We keep forgetting about Antlia, Centaurus,
Draco, Lacerta, Hydra, Lyra, Lynx.
But mostly we’re forgetting we’re dead stars too, my mouth is full
of dust and I wish to reclaim the rising—
to lean in the spotlight of streetlight with you, toward
what’s larger within us, toward how we were born.
Look, we are not unspectacular things.
We’ve come this far, survived this much. What
would happen if we decided to survive more? To love harder?
What if we stood up with our synapses and flesh and said, No.
No, to the rising tides.
Stood for the many mute mouths of the sea, of the land?
What would happen if we used our bodies to bargain
for the safety of others, for earth,
if we declared a clean night, if we stopped being terrified,
if we launched our demands into the sky, made ourselves so big
people could point to us with the arrows they make in their minds,
rolling their trash bins out, after all of this is over?
From The Carrying (Milkweed Editions, 2018) by Ada Limón. Copyright © 2018 by Ada Limón. Used with the permission of Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org.