Ocean Vuong

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 on 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 hand running the hem
of  her white dress.
His black eyes.
Her black hair.
A single candle.
Their shadows: two wicks.

A military truck speeds through the intersection, the sound of children
shrieking inside. A bicycle hurled
through a store window. When the dust rises, a black dog
lies in the road, panting. Its hind legs
crushed into the shine
of a white Christmas.

On the nightstand, 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 crackling 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 bomb brightens
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.

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About "Aubade with Burning City"

Following the passing of his grandmother in 2008, Vuong wrote this poem partially as a method of preserving the memory of his grandmother and her words describing the scene of Saigon falling.

Aubade with Burning City Track info