Ocean Vuong
Prayer for the Newly Damned

Dearest Father, forgive me for I have seen.

Behind the wooden fence, a field lit

with summer, a man pressing a shank

to another man’s throat. Steel turning to light

on sweat-slick neck. Forgive me

for not calling Your name. For thinking:

this must be how every prayer

begins—the word Please cleaving

the wind into fragments, into what

a boy hears in his need to know

how pain blesses the body back

to its sinner. The hour suddenly

stilled. The man genuflected, his lips

pressed to black boot as the words spilled

from his mouth like rosaries

shattering from too much

Father. Am I wrong to love

those eyes, to see something so clear

and blue—beg to remain

clear and blue? Did my cheek twitch

when that darkness bloomed from his crotch

and trickled into ochre dirt? Father,

how quickly the blade becomes

You. But let me begin again: There’s a boy

kneeling in a house with every door kicked open

to summer. There’s a question corroding

his tongue. There’s a knife touching

Your name lodged inside the throat.

Dearest Father, what becomes of the boy

no longer a boy? Please

what becomes of the shepherd

when the sheep are cannibals?

Found In Volume 41, No. 05
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Ocean Vuong
About the Author

Ocean Vuong is the author of the novel, On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, out from Penguin Press (2019) and forthcoming in 20 languages worldwide. He is also the author of the critically acclaimed poetry collection, Night Sky with Exit Wounds, a New York Times Top 10 Book of 2016, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Whiting Award, the Thom Gunn Award, and the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. A Ruth Lilly fellow from the Poetry Foundation, his honors include fellowships from the Lannan Foundation, the Civitella Ranieri Foundation, The Elizabeth George Foundation, The Academy of American Poets, and the Pushcart Prize.


"Prayer for the Newly Damned" was the winner of The American Poetry Review's Stanley Kunitz Prize for Younger Poets in 2011.