Kissing in Vietnamese

Ocean Vuong

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.

More by Ocean Vuong

Tell Me Something Good

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.

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.