The Gift

Ocean Vuong

a b c a b c a b c

She doesn’t know what comes after.
So we begin again:

a b c a b c a b c

But I can see the fourth letter:
a strand of black hair – unraveled
from the alphabet
& written
on her cheek.

Even now the nail salon
will not leave her: isopropyl acetate,
ethyl acetate, chloride, sodium lauryl
sulfate & sweat fuming
through her pink
I NY t-shirt.

a b c a b c a – the pencil snaps.

The b bursting its belly
as dark dust blows
through a blue-lined sky.

Don’t move, she says, as she picks
a wing bone of graphite
from the yellow carcass, slides it back
between my fi ngers.
Again. & again

I see it: the strand of hair lifting
from her face … how it fell
onto the page – & lived
with no sound. Like a word.
I still hear it.