Poems

Ocean Vuong: “Color Scheme”

Color Scheme

after the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1968 photo taken by Nick Ut of a Viet Cong guerilla being executed by South Vietnam’s national police chief

This is not
how death is made
permanent. Not
the camera’s flash,
the irony of sunlight
on gunmetal,
but the hand gripping the pistol
(a yellow hand)
and the face squinting
behind the barrel
(a yellow face).

Like all captured life
this one fails
to reveal the picture.
Like where the bullet
entered his skull,
the phantom of a rose
leapt into light, or how,
after smoke cleared,
from behind the fool
with blood on his cheek
and the dead dog by his feet,

a white man
was lighting a cigarette.

Ocean Vuong‘s first full-length collection, Night Sky With Exit Wounds, is available now from Copper Canyon Press (2016).  A 2016 winner of the Whiting Award and a 2014 Ruth Lilly fellow, his work has been featured in Kenyon Review, The Nation, New Republic, The New Yorker, The New York Times, Poetry, and the American Poetry Review, which awarded him the Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets.

“Color Scheme” appeared in the Spring & Summer 2013 (photography themed) issue of Poetry Northwest.