Burnings

By Ocean Vuong

Poem

            photograph (circa 1989)

Refugee camp in the Philippines.
I sit, flanked by mother and aunt: my saviors.
Here, they are young again,
their bodies smooth and unscarred
beneath the white garments illuminating
from the shack’s interior.
No. This is not a metaphor
for angels—but there are halo shards
locked in their mouths. Do not believe
the light in their eyes, the grins stretched
so wide, there is no room for joy.
Do not say our names. These faces
cannot belong to the ruin they became.
Do not say our names as this flame grows
from the edge of the photo, the women’s smiles
peeling into grimaces, the boy spreading
into black smudge, filaments of fire
dissolving into wind. No, do not say our names.
Let us burn quietly into the lives
                                                                 we never were.

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Born in Saigon, Vietnam, OCEAN VUONG is the author of the chapbook 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 Connecticut Poetry Society’s Al Savard Award, as well as four Pushcart Prize nominations. Poems appear in RHINO, diode, Lantern Review, Softblow, Crate, 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.

One response to “Burnings”

  1. Lorna says:

    Lovely and haunting.

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