University of Southern Indiana

Anaphora as Coping Mechanism

Ocean Vuong 


Can’t sleep
so you put on his grey boots—nothing else—and step out
in the rain. Even though he’s dead you think, I still want
to be clean. If only the rain was gasoline, your tongue
a lit match. If only he dies the second his name
becomes a tooth in your mouth. But he doesn’t. He dies
when his heart stops and heat retreats into its bluer shades, blood
pooled where it last bursted, slack like rain in a pothole. He dies
when they wheel him away and the priest ushers you out of the room,
your face darkening behind your hands. He dies as your heart beats
faster, your palms two puddles of rain. He dies each night
you close your eyes and hear his slow exhale. Your hand choking
the dark. Your hand through the bathroom mirror just to see yourself
in multitudes. He dies at the party where everyone laughs
and all you want to do is go into the kitchen and make seven omelets
before burning down the house. All you want is to run into the woods
and beg the wolf to fuck you up. He dies as soon as you wake up
and it’s November for months. The coffee like water. The song
on the record stuck on please. He dies the morning he kisses you
for two minutes too long, when he says I love you followed by
I have something to say and you quickly grab your favorite pink pillow
and smother him as he cries into the soft and darkening fabric.
You hold very still as you look out the window, at the streak
of ochre light smeared on the young birch. And you breathe.
You breathe thinking of summer, the long evenings pressed
into smoke-soaked skin. You hold still until he’s very quiet,
until the room fades black and you’re both standing
in the crowded train again. You’re leaning back
into his chest and he doesn’t know your name yet, but he doesn’t
move. You’re letting go of the pole now. You feel his breaths
on your neck and smile for the first time in weeks. And he just
stands there with his eyes closed, the back of your head nestled
in his sternum. He doesn’t know your name yet. The train
rocks you back and forth like a slow dance you watch
from the distance of years. His dimples reflected
in the window reflecting your lips as you mouth the words
thank you. And he never dies.


Ocean Vuong is the author of the chapbook Burnings (Sibling Rivalry Press, 2010). A Kundiman fellow, he was a finalist for the 2011 Crab Orchard Series First Book Award. Other honors include a 2012 Stanley Kunitz Memorial Prize for Younger Poets, an Academy of American Poets prize, the Connecticut Poetry Society’s Al Savard Award, as well as four Pushcart Prize nominations. Poems appear in American Poetry ReviewRHINO, DiodeThe CollagistVerse DailyDrunken BoatLinebreakSouth Dakota Review, and Guernica, among others. He lives in Brooklyn, NY..


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