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
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
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.