The Smallest Measure

by Ocean Vuong

Ocean Vuong

Behind the fallen oak
the Winchester rattles

in a boy's early hands.

A copper beard grazes
his ear. Go ahead.

She's all yours...

Heavy with summer, I
am the doe whose one hoof cocks
like a question ready to open

roots. & like any god
-forsaken thing, I want nothing more
than my breaths. To lift

this snout, carved
from centuries of hunger toward the next
low peach bruising

in the season's clutch.
Go ahead , the voice thicker
now, drive her

home. But the boy is crying
into the carcass of a tree -- cheeks smeared
with snot & chipped bark.

Once, I came near
enough to a man to smell
a woman's scent

in his quiet praying--
as some will do before raising
their weapons closer

to the sky. But through the grained mist
that makes this morning's minutes,
this smallest measure

of distance, I see two arms unhinging
the rifle from the boy's grip,
its metallic shine

sharpened through wet leaves
I see the rifle...the rifle coming
down, then gone. I see

an orange cap touching
an orange cap. No, a man
bending over his son

the way the hunted
for centuries must bend
over its own reflection

to drink.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Last updated February 24, 2023