Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Ocean Vuong

I’ve been reading these past few months since I last posted here, but quite slowly, and then I never got around to writing anything about the books before the library demanded them back. But I read Ocean Vuong’s essay in The New Yorker’s fiction issue, with several pieces on the theme of “childhood reading.” His is centered around the experience of being an immigrant with limited English and writing a poem that the teacher was convinced he must have copied. It ends with this killer line: “I have plagiarized my life to give you the best of me.” I almost immediately went out to buy this collection, and it resonated with me just as I hoped, “with every rib / humming / the desperation / of unstruck / piano keys.” He clearly has a fondness for Frank O’Hara and a similar playful seriousness.

Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong

Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother’s shadow falls.
Here’s the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red trip wire.
Don’t worry. Just call it horizon
& you’ll never reach it.
Here’s today. Jump. I promise it’s not
a lifeboat. Here’s the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty out of.
Don’t be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer
& failing. Ocean. Ocean—
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it’s headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here’s
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through like the wind
through a wind chime. Here’s a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here’s a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake—
& mistake these walls
for skin.

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