Aubade with Burning City

South Vietnam, 29 April 1975: Armed Forces Radio played Irving Berlin’s ‘White Christmas’ as a code to begin Operation Frequent Wind,  the ultimate evacuation of American civilians and Vietnamese refugees by helicopter during the fall of Saigon. 


              Milkflower petals in the street 

                                               like pieces of a girl’s dress. 


May your days be merry and bright . . . 


He fills a teacup with champagne, brings it to her lips. 

          Open, he says. 

                                  She opens. 

                                                    Outside, a soldier spits out 

     his cigarette as footsteps fill the square like stones 

                                                            fallen from the sky. May 

all your Christmases be white 

                                                as the traffic guard unstraps his holster. 


                                  His fingers running the hem 

of her white dress. A single candle. 

                                   Their shadows: two wicks. 


A military truck speeds through the intersection, children 

                                        shrieking inside. A bicycle hurled 

         through a store window. When the dust rises, a black dog 

                                lies panting in the road. Its hind legs 

                                                                             crushed into the shine 

                                                      of a white Christmas. 


On the bed stand. a sprig of magnolia expands like a secret heard 

                                                                        for the first time. 


The treetops glisten and children listen, the chief of police 

                           facedown in a pool of Coca-Cola. 

                                      A palm-sized photo of his father soaking 

        beside his left ear. 


The song moving through the city like a widow. 

           A white. . . A white . . . I’m dreaming of a curtain of snow 


                                                                    falling from her shoulders. 


Snow scraping against the window. Snow shredded 

                                                  with gunfire. Red sky. 

                               Snow on the tanks rolling over the city walls. 

A helicopter lifting the living just 


                                                                                           out of reach. 


           The city so white it is ready for ink. 


                                                        The radio saying run run run. 

Milkflower petals on a black dog 

                         like pieces of a girl’s dress. 


May your days be merry and bright. She is saying 

         something neither of them can hear. The hotel rocks 

                     beneath them. The bed a field of ice. 


Don’t worry, he says, as the first shell flashes 

                          their faces, my brothers have won the war 

                                                                                and tomorrow. . .  

                                     The lights go out. 

I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming. . .  

                                                              to hear sleigh bells in the snow. . .  


In the square below: a nun, on fire, 

                                          runs silently toward her god – 


                           Open, he says. 

                                                                   She opens. 

from Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon, 2016/Cape 2017), copyright © Ocean Vuong 2016, used by permission of the author and the publishers

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