Video Transcript

Kissing in Vietnamese by Ocean Vuong

My grandmother kisses
as if bombs are bursting in the backyard,
where mint and jasmine lace their perfumes
through the kitchen window,
as if somewhere, a body is falling apart
and flames are making their way back
through the vessels in a young boy’s thigh,
as if to walk out the door your torso
would dance with exit wounds.
When my grandmother kisses, there will be
no flashy smooching, no western music
of pursed lips, she kisses as if to breathe
you inside her, nose pressed to cheek
so that your scent pearls into drops of nectar
inside her lungs, as if while she holds you
death also, is clutching your wrist.
My grandmother kisses as if history
never ended, as if somewhere,
a body is still

falling apart

 

The Photo

After the infamous 1968 photo of a Viet Cong guerilla

being executed by South Vietnam’s national police chief.

 

What hurts the most

is not how death

is made permanent

by the camera’s flash

the irony of sunlight

on gunmetal

but the hand gripping the pistol

is a yellow hand,

and the face squinting

behind the barrel

a yellow face.

 

Like all photographs

this one fails

to reveal the picture.

Like where the bullet

entered his skull

the phantom of a rose

leapt into light, or how

after smoke cleared

from behind the fool

with blood on his cheek

and the dead dog by his feet

 

a white man

was lighting a cigarette.