Today for your reading pleasure, a poem by Ocean Vuong, whose first chapbook, Burnings, is now out on Sibling Rivalry Press.
THE PRODIGAL SON’S LAMENT
Father, after I told you I made love __with my name smeared across ____another man’s lips, I began to burn
slowly in the spaces untouched __by your voice. For years, I reached for you ____through letters returned unopened,
now yellowing at the edges. They say __you’re somewhere in California, trying ____to force your name into another woman’s womb.
Everyday, I carry the weight of your refusal __down the dusty road of memory, to a room ____where belt lashes licked my back
into raw cords of manhood, my mouth singed __with blood as I bit the tongue you gave me. ____Why, as I lie beside the man I will marry,
does the body ache for your hands? __Why does it rage through insomniac nights ____itching for the threads of your voice
to strangle the songs of morning birds? __Father, I want to be bad again. ____The things I would give, the bodies
I would refuse, to feel your knuckles __relearn the curve of my cheek, split skin ____into crimson fissures, to smell your sweat
as you break my bones—anything __to come as close as we were ____when you held your battered boy
in your arms and whispered something __like forgiveness. I do not regret you. ____Even if you tell them
your first son played with fire __and burned into a dark vestige ____in the distance,
you cannot forget __my finger sliding into your palm ____as we braved the clean sunlight
for ice cream, my back still tender __with your gift of love and mercy. ____If we do not speak or touch
again, or when your mouth __can no longer twist into the shape ____of my name, when I am nothing
but ash on your tongue, __I will never leave you. After all, father, ____it is almost a promise
that what we will always have __is something ________________we lost.
Born in 1988 in Saigon, Vietnam, OCEAN VUONG is the author of Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press) and is currently an undergraduate at Brooklyn College, CUNY. His poems have received an Academy of American Poets Prize, the Beatrice Dubin Rose Award, the Connecticut Poetry Society’s Al Savard Award, as well as four Pushcart Prize nominations. He lives in Brooklyn and is an avid supporter of animal rights and veganism. More at www.oceanvuong.blogspot.com.
“The Prodigal Son’s Lament” was first published in PANK magazine (June 2010). It appears here with permission.