Ocean Vuong, “The Prodigal Son’s Lament”
Author: Poetry Editor
January 27, 2011
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
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.