BY KATHRYN HARGETT
 

Alabama School of Fine Arts, '17
2016 Adroit Prize for Poetry: Editors' List


After Ocean Vuong
 

Instead, let the rocket pass through the house with
mammoth-bone shutters like wind into a wind chime—
cripple the air as it possesses Third Aunt’s lungs
& passes through the tallow in her sternum, to seep

down into her femur, dislocate, & shed the yellow bone. 
May it catch her leg as it is heaped into the air like roses
onto the side of a sleeping bull, & let the ash settle
as a second skin upon my infant grandmother, her face 

blood-contorted with smoke. May the votive candle
in her hand be caught as it lays her down in the rubble
& serosa, the flame extinguished in one drowned pant, 
& shove beyond the brown faces bent with soot— 

into the rock pillars they called out to with the day’s
last, unechoing amen, where the company treks north—
into the great fields of light. May it find the soldier
named Window, who cradles my mother’s molars on

a thread string around his neck, & uses them each
morning to burn the sin out of his ribs. May it stumble
with him as he dogs into a shack lit only by a white-
gummed hymnal, to feel the boils on Eighth Uncle’s 

knuckles & wrap his Earth hands around Window’s
shin gunto. May his bewildered black eyes grow to the size
of the soldier’s open mouth as he brings down the blade. 
& say: Mukai xiansheng, may you answer & burn & burn.

May he slash & slash again until Hirohito seems like only
the stubbornest voice, a tongue tranking out of prayer. 
& may his own eyes blaze until they wean into his mother’s
trembling invocations, & transmute against his callouses, 

& scatter, like those gutted spirits of his sisters. But may
his anger exalt & genuflect as it hies through his pale
fever— shatter the bloodied altar painting as it enters
the lonely mountain trail & rickets towards the boulder-

scarred coasts. May it revolve twice with Nüwa & 
the bombers’ hum before plummeting down, to crush
First Aunt’s eye socket & pull the gold-silk robe above
her globus. Let it swallow her glottal shrieks & close 

the sky like a mouth full of spit, drag her gagged weeps
to the west again, deep into the Yangtze, where it empties
her name— & rouse the dead spirits from its muddy
banks, let them rise & hunger for the light in my mother’s 

closed palm: how it guides them back into the Earth
as they clot into another beheaded woman. May they drag
their sleeping forms along cattle roads & over each
still infant they see, towards the mudbrick monastery 

where, in the darkness, a monk mistakes his singed
hands for his mother’s. Whispers: May the fearful
become fearless and those struck by grief find joy
— as the
company advances again. Let them tumble through 

the holes in his palms & draw his weeping body
into the refugee camp where First Aunt steeps
down into her hunger, into Nanjing, into a sky red-
worshipped by rockets— a sky he once named 

yuàn— where the snow crackles with the bile
of a hundred throats, & where lines of semen trank
across the Western horizon, towards huó. May he
kneel before a drunken soldier & caress his prayer

beads as the sword is raised, & may he catch the bullets
that fling themselves into a child’s rusted diaphragm
before the red ash falls— lay them both between
the blown-out temples & school buildings, flesh & flesh

as their jaws slacken with prayer: may a god send rain
in time
. Let it linger in their residual & a soldier’s guffaw
before standing & following their spirits eastward, 
past the jade indents of burning paddies & artillery 

fire that clip Nanjing’s ear & thrusts it onto its calves. 
May it carry their spirits on its back like a sleeping child, 
shuffling east & reciting nianfo, until the shouting flak
clots into a song held briefly in the mouth. May it lay 

their crumpled bodies onto the cragged beaches
of the South China Sea, where the voice becomes
a dying bird at the edge of the Pacific spume. 
Let it turn & glimpse another man through its sobs, 

another Uncle with walnut-knuckled fists, whose brown
hands become their own prayer flung out before him: 
May the forest of sword-leaves become for them the splendor
of a pleasure grove
— May it bless the smoke above him, 

& the rocket that will unravel Third Aunt as it lapses
into light at the horizon’s gilded mouth. & behind, 
may it drink the lines of trackfire that cleave the sand
into memory as Uncle greets the coming planes. 

May it pull him against its chest as he collapses
onto his blackened stomach— soon, morning will rise
to claim him again, when the planes have crossed
his spine & dissipated onto the lunar tongue. 

May its throat fill suddenly with mucus & his dead
daughters; soon, his eyes will become pearled
with whale fat. Enter the cadet without skin, 
who presses his palm against Uncle’s spine, feels 

for life, then thrusts a bayonet through his sternum. 
May his daughters’ arms creak out of his pockmarked
back to gather his limp, burned hands, & guide
him into the yuàn, as the monk touches Uncle’s 

bearded chin: may I be born from a lotus into the precious
pure land of Dewachen
. May they stand & trek north
with the infantry, warping through the wreck
of flamed fishgut & bullet fatigues, towards my young 

grandmother again, her face twisted with cinders, 
who stands before Third Aunt’s smoldering body, 
feels for her own life, & screams, clutching desperately
at yuàn, as the smoke rises from her chest— into 

the last standing temples, where light gathers. 
May her father pull her away from her sister’s hollowed
form, the air around them stiff with tomorrow’s embers, 
& may the spirits return her father’s voice back 

into his tongue to choke out its tallow root— 
May the heap of burning coal become a mound of jewels— 
May the burning ground become a crystal marble floor— 
My grandmother will shriek again & beat her hands 

against his forearm as he gathers her from the kindle, 
his nose burrowing into her shoulder like its own gun. 
May the spirits step & collect around Third Aunt, & pray: 
May all beings have immeasurable life spansmay they always

live happily, & may even the word “death” disappear.
May she smolder gently in the coming dawn— 
may they bathe her in rosewater until the shrapnel
rises out of her skin, & every cervix they find realigns 

with Nüwa, her pillars of Heaven. & every dead
woman in Nanjing, eyes flung open in worship—
like dogs, hands open, they will run towards the Lord.

 

 

Kathryn Hargett is a junior at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in Birmingham. She is a 2015 Foyle Young Poet of the Year, and her poetry has been recognized by Princeton University, the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, the Alabama Writers' Forum, Gannon University, Hollins University, and Sierra Nevada College. Her work can be found in Sierra Nevada Review, Gigantic Sequins, Cargoes, Polyphony H.S., and elsewhere.