Aubade with burning city

Ocean Vuong

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Aubade with burning city

South Vietnam, April 29, 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
face down 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 Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Copper Canyon Press, out in April 2016. Published with permission of the publisher

Ocean Vuong is a Vietnamese-born poet living in America. His collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds won the 2017 TS Eliot prize
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