This Monday night we shared Ocean Vuong’s poetry and prose, reading from his three primary works.

From Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous:

Night Sky With Exit Wounds (excerpt)

Let me begin again.

Dear Ma,

I am writing to reach you—even if each word I put down is one word further from where you are. I am writing to go back to the time, at the rest stop in Virginia, when you stared, horror-struck, at the taxidermy buck hung over the soda machine by the restrooms, its antlers shadowing your face. In the car, you kept shaking your head. “I don’t understand why they would do that. Can’t they see it’s a corpse? A corpse should go away, not get stuck forever like that.”

I think now of that buck, how you stared into its black glass eyes and saw your reflection, your whole body, warped in that lifeless mirror. How it was not the grotesque mounting of a decapitated animal that shook you—but that the taxidermy embodied a death that won’t finish, a death that keeps dying as we walk past it to relieve ourselves.

So begins the first novel by Zen Buddhist Ocean Vuong, one of the leading young voices in American letters today. The New Yorker calls his Night Sky With Exit Wound, a “soaring, sober consideration of his family’s absorption into the American fold;” On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous “a beautifully meditative novel borrowed from his life growing up queer and surrounded by despair and addiction” in post-industrial New England; and Time Is A Mother “full of concentrated, kaleidoscopic riffs on the feelings and sounds, the delirious highs and darkest lows, that make up contemporary life.”

Tell me it was for hunger
& nothing more. For hunger is to give
the body what it knows
it cannot keep. That this amber light
whittled down to another war
is all that pins my hand to your chest.

You drowning between my arms—
you pushing your body
into the river
only to be left
with yourself—