Toy Boat

September 18, 2017

Ocean Vuong: I’m Ocean Vuong, and this is Poetry Now.



Toy Boat


            for Tamir Rice


I wrote this shortly after the news broke out with Tamir’s death, and I wanted to respond in a way that did not repeat the occurrences of the news. I felt like there was such a glut, a flood of the trauma repeated again and again and I didn’t want to replicate that. I was obsessed with this idea of the miniature; we give guns to children, we give grenades and knifes, and how we disarm that by calling it a toy, and yet they are very real.

Toy Boat


            for Tamir Rice


yellow plastic

black sea


eye-shaped shard

on a darkened map


no shores now

to arrive — or


no wind but

this waiting which

moves you


as if  the seconds

could be entered

& never left


toy boat — oarless

each wave

a green lamp



toy boat

toy leaf  dropped

from a toy tree




as if the sp-


thinning above you

are not

already pierced

by their own names


I was born out of violence. My grandfather was an American veteran that went to Vietnam to fight, and that’s where he met my grandmother. I wouldn’t be alive without war. What’s more is that when we immigrated to Hartford, we lived in a very violent neighborhood. Gun violence and shooting was often heard at night. It was always part of the way we spoke to one another, it was always part of our psyche. It has turned, unfortunately, part of the American psyche. I wanted Tamir Rice’s name to charge itself with that history. I never responded quickly to news or events, I just felt so bombarded … I think it was one of the rare moments where I turned to poetry, I looked at it and I said what can you do that nothing else offers right now? Poetry offers us a moment where it’s okay that no answer is ever certain. The violences, both historic and personal that we traverse as people are sometimes never as reducible as we want them to be. That a recognition of our intricacies is perhaps a better common ground that we can have with one another.


Sara Murphy: That was Ocean Vuong, and his poem “Toy Boat for Tamir Rice”. I’m Sara Murphy, and this is Poetry Now, a production of The Poetry Foundation and the WFMT Radio Network. For more about this series, go to

Ocean Vuong remembers Tamir Rice, the 12-year old boy killed by police in Cleveland, OH in 2014. Produced by Sara Murphy.

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