Aubade with Burning City's image
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Aubade with Burning City

Ocean VuongOcean Vuong June 16, 2020
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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

                                                                                cracking.


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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