SPRING 2013 (Issue 78)

Ocean Vuong

Shoebox, Shell Casing

Kneeling in the half-dark, he hummed
the song his father gave him
as he lay wasting inside the bomb crater.

His finger, still damp with mother's sex,
circled the mole above my eye.
The scar on his lip was suddenly larger

beneath my finger. I wanted to rise
like the hurt that burned and hardened
there, to hold—briefly—the blade, answer it

with blood—or my name. But that
was someone else's life. These days
I can't tell his voice from the rain falling

into mother's mouth. I wake
from the dream where he screams my name
under water. Moonlight shames

the room. I open the box dusted
with eleven winters: the Colt .44
shiny and sunken in folds of yellowed newspaper.

I lift it as one lifts an amputated hand.
The chamber an answer deep enough
to swallow every question beginning with

why. Because when years have whittled
the song to a swirl of dust in the eardrum,
what do I know? What do I know

of love's austere and lonely
silences, as I open the window, press
the barrel to the night's bruised

mouth, and like any good son— listen
as my father speaks.