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On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous

Ocean VuongOcean Vuong June 16, 2020
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Tell me it was for the hunger

& nothing less. For hunger is to give

the body what it knows

it cannot keep. That this amber light

whittled down by 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 —



I’ll tell you how we’re wrong enough to be forgiven. How one night, after


mother, then taking a chainsaw to the kitchen table, my father went to kneel

in the bathroom until we heard his muffled cries through the walls.

And so I learned that a man, in climax, was the closest thing

to surrender.


Say surrender. Say alabaster. Switchblade.

Honeysuckle. Goldenrod. Say autumn.

Say autumn despite the green

in your eyes. Beauty despite

daylight. Say you’d kill for it. Unbreakable dawn

mounting in your throat.

My thrashing beneath you

like a sparrow stunned

with falling.


Dusk: a blade of honey between our shadows, draining.


I wanted to disappear — so I opened the door to a stranger’s car. He was divorced. He was still alive. He was sobbing into his hands (hands that tasted like rust). The pink breast cancer ribbon on his keychain swayed in the ignition. Don’t we touch each other just to prove we are still here? I was still here once. The moon, distant & flickering, trapped itself in beads of sweat on my neck. I let the fog spill through the cracked window & cover my fangs. When I left, the Buick kept sitting there, a dumb bull in pasture, its eyes searing my shadow onto the side of suburban houses. At home, I threw myself on the bed like a torch & watched the flames gnaw through my mother’s house until the sky appeared, bloodshot & massive. How I wanted to be that sky — to hold every flying & falling at once.


Say amen. Say amend.

Say yes. Say yes



In the shower, sweating under cold water, I scrubbed & scrubbed.


In the life before this one, you could tell

two people were in love

because when they drove the pickup

over the bridge, their wings

would grow back just in time.

Some days I am still inside the pickup.

Some days I keep waiting.


It’s not too late. Our heads haloed

with gnats & summer too early

to leave any marks.

Your hand under my shirt as static

intensifies on the radio.

Your other hand pointing

your daddy’s revolver

to the sky. Stars falling one

by one in the cross hairs.

This means I won’t be

afraid if we’re already

here. Already more

than skin can hold. That a body

beside a body

must make a field

full of ticking. That your name

is only the sound of clocks

being set back another hour

& morning

finds our clothes

on your mother’s front porch, shed

like week-old lilies.

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