By Ocean Vuong:
TO LOVE WELL
is to place a hand
on another’s chest and know
that the heart only beats
when locked in a cage
Dawn cracks: a lightning bolt
carving slowly through the clouds.
All night I listened to your breath.
Even tasted your lips
when the moon turned you pale
as a corpse.
I haven’t killed a thing
since the morning
we followed gunshots into a field
peppered with sparrows. Remember
how their necks twitched
beneath our thumbs? Before twisting,
I took some time to feel
the rage of wings against palm,
marveling at such fierce resistance
to mercy. Perhaps
it was selfish—I couldn’t bear
the sound of wings
Darling, forgive me. When you wake
and begin to flutter in the emptiness
still warm from my whispers,
I will be too far
from this field
to wrap my hands around
that little bird
in your chest.
(“To Love Well” and “Departure” were originally published in Diode. Both poems are reprinted here today with permission from the poet.)
Ocean Vuong: Born in Saigon, Vietnam, Ocean Vuong is the author of Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010) and is currently an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, CUNY. His poems have received an Academy of American Poets Prize, the Beatrice Dubin Rose Award, the Connecticut Poetry Society’s Al Savard Award, as well as four Pushcart Prize nominations. Poems appear in Word Riot, Diode, Lantern Review, Softblow, and PANK, among others. Work has also been translated into Hindi, Korean, Vietnamese, and Russian. He lives in Brooklyn and is an avid supporter of animal rights and veganism.
Editor’s Note: I find Ocean Vuong at once inspiring and inhibiting. Like Rimbaud before him, I am in awe of Ocean’s extreme talent and numerous accomplishments at his age, and at the same time I am inhibited by feelings of inferiority when considering both his written word and his accolades. I’ll try to err on the side of inspiration and say that I am honored to be sharing a city, a school, and a genre with this exceptionally gifted poet. Ordinarily I would share with you some of my favorite moments from today’s poems, but I am honestly in awe of every word, every beat, every line. I urge you to read and re-read today’s poems; it is like breathing a new kind of air. I also urge you to consider buying Ocean’s first chapbook, Burnings, to support both this up-and-coming artist and Sibling Rivalry Press, an on-the-rise press you should be keeping an eye on.