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VUONG, Ocean

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 Ngo i’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.