In Newport I Watch My Father Lay His Cheek to a Beached Dolphin’s Wet Back

This summer, we present a special series on poems as maps. Read the introduction to the series.

& close his eyes. His hair the shade

of its cracked flesh.

His right arm, inked with three falling


marking the lives he had

or had not taken—cradles

the pinkish snout. Its teeth

gleaming like bullets.

Huey. Tomahawk. Semi


as we sat in the Nissan, watching waves

brush over our breaths

when he broke for shore, hobbled

on his gimp leg. Mustard

-yellow North Face jacket

diminishing toward the grey life

smeared into ours. Shrapnel

-strapped. Bushwhacker. The last time

I saw him run like that, he had

a hammer in his fist, mother

a nail-length out of reach.

America. America a row of streetlights

flickering on his whiskey

-lips as we ran. A family

screaming down Franklin Ave.

ADD. PTST. POW. Pow. Pow. Pow

says the sniper. Fuck you

says the father, tracers splashing

through the palm leaves. Confetti

green, how I want you green.

Green despite the red despite

the rest. His knees sunk

in ink-black mud, he guides

a ribbon of water to the pulsing

blowhole. Ok. Okay. AK

-47. I am eleven only once

as he kneels to gather the wet refugee

into his arms. Waves


his legs. The dolphin’s eye

gasping like a newborn’s

mouth. & once more

I am swinging open

the passenger door. I am running

toward a rusted horizon, running

out of a country

to run out of. I am chasing my father

the way the dead chase after

days—& although I am still

too far to hear it, I can tell,

by the way his neck tilts

to one side, as if broken,

that he is singing

my favorite song

to his empty hands.

Editors’ Note

“In Newport I Watch My Father Lay His Cheek to a Beached Dolphin’s Wet Back,” by Ocean Vuong, is from Night Sky with Exit Wounds. Copyright © 2016 by Ocean Vuong. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Copper Canyon Press,

About the Series: Poems as Maps

Our series on poems as maps features work by Elizabeth Alexander, Bao Phi, Joanne Diaz, Nikky Finney, Sean Hill, Andrea Jenkins, Douglas Kearney, J. Drew Lanham, Claudia Rankine, Barbara Jane Reyes, Sun Yung Shin, Evie Shockley, and Ocean Vuong.

Ocean Vuong, “In Newport I Watch My Father Lay His Cheek to a Beached Dolphin’s Wet Back,” Places Journal, August 2017. Accessed 01 Oct 2023. <>

If you would like to comment on this article, or anything else on Places Journal, visit our Facebook page or send us a message on Twitter.