I cannot let this April pass without a poem from the astonishing Ocean Vuong (1988-). Whenever I ask some of my dear poet friends who I should be reading now, his name inevitably comes up. After you read this poem, I hope you, too, will understand why.
Since poetry is after all meant to be heard, I urge you to take a moment to listen to Ocean read the poem in his own voice . And then I urge you to find your way to a copy of his debut collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds, which was just released, and is full of poems as devastating as this one.
“Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong”
After Frank O’Hara / After Roger Reeves
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 tripwire.
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 you like 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