by Ocean Vuong
Red is only black remembering.
Early dark & the baker wakes
to press what's left of the year
into flour & water. Or rather,
he's reshaping the curve of her pale calf
atmosphered by a landmine left ober
from the war he can't recall. A fistful
of hay & the oven scarlets. Alfafa
Forsythia. Foxglove. Bubbling
dough. When it's done, he'll tear open
the yeasty steam only to find
his palms---the same
as when he was young. When heaviness
was not measured by weight
but distance. He'll climb
the spiral staircase & call her name.
He'll imagine the softness of bread
as he peels back the wool blanket,
raises her phantom limb to his lips as each kiss
dissolves down her air-light ankles.
& he will never see the pleasure
this brings to her face. Because in my hurry
to make her real, make her
here, I will forget to write
a bit of light into the room.
Because my hands were always brief
& dim as my father's.
& it will start to rain. I won't
even think to put a roof over the house--
her prosthetic leg on the nightstand,
the clack clack as it fills to the brim. Listen,
the year is gone. I know
nothing of my country. I write things
down. I build a life & tear it apart
& the sun keeps shining. Crescent
wave. Salt-spray. Tsunami. I have
enough ink to give you the sea
but not the ships, but it's my book
& I'll say anything just to stay inside
this skin. Sassafras. Douglas fir.
Sextant & compass. Let's call this autumn
where my father sits in a $40 motel
outside Fresno, rattling from the whisky
again. His fingers blurred
like a photograph. Marvin on the stereo
pleading brother, brother. & how
could I have known, that by pressing
this pen to paper, I was touching us
back from extinction? That we were more
than black ink on the bone
-white backs of angels facedown
in the blazing orchard. Ink poured
into the shape of a woman's calf. A woman
I could go back & erase & erase
but I won't. I won't tell you how
the mouth will never be honest
as its teeth. How this
bread, daily broken, dipped
in honey--& lifted
with exodus tongues, like any other
lie--is only true as your trust
in hunger. How my father, all famine
& fissure, will wake at 4 a.m.
in a windowless room & not remember
his legs. Go head, baby, he will say, put your han on mai bak, because he will believe
I am really there, that his son
has been standing behind him all
these years. Put yor hans on my showduh,
he will say to the cigarette smoke swirling
into the ghost of a boy, Now flap. Yeah, lye dat, baby.
Flap lye yu waving gootbai. See?
I telling yu... I telling yu. Yor daddy?
Last updated February 24, 2023