17 pages 34 minutes read

Ocean Vuong

Kissing in Vietnamese

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

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Symbols & Motifs


Kissing is a typical sign of love, in this case familial love between a grandmother and her grandson. Kissing is universal, a sign that anybody from any culture can understand. The way Vuong uses this motif compares “Kissing in Vietnamese” with kissing in non-Vietnamese cultures. Midway, the speaker says “When my grandmother kisses, there would be / no flashy smooching, no western music”. (Lines 10-11) This makes a comparison between kissing in the western world, which seems flashy and showy, done to “western music” (Line 11) and “Kissing in Vietnamese” which takes on more seriousness. The word “smooching” (Line 11) which is what some people do, connotes something grotesque and flippant. By contrast, kissing is more sincere. To say there is no “flashy smooching” (Line 11) suggests that when his grandmother kisses, it is more sincere. In fact, he may be suggesting that his grandmother is incapable of “smooching” (Line 11) or giving a superficial sign of affection. When the grandmother kisses, she is expressing the knowledge that each kiss might be the last. The way the grandmother kisses seems more sincere, more internalized, literally taking in the smell and “sweat” (Line 15) like “drops of gold” (Line 15) into her body, relearning the person’s smells, because she knows death is around the corner.