Notebook Fragments by Ocean Vuong
MARGINALIA • SKIP TO THE POEM
Maybe fragments are what make my life. I gather them all together in my arms, carry what I can, from place to place: Here is where things have become disastrous; here is where I learned to live through the pain; here is where I’ve come to stand, knees trembling, after being bent double in grief.
In a postcard which I wrote to my future self, I said, “The universe, in general, is kind. And isn’t that fantastic? You’ve got to trust the process, love.”
I don’t ask for much these days, other than to occupy the spaces surrounding the word here.
Maybe a fragment is what I am, all these years: Here is the self that threatens to crumble; here is the self who died a thousand times; here is the self who lived anyway.
I am thirty-two today. The unknown before me.
The mantra falls from my lips like a promise: Here. Here. Here.
A scar’s width of warmth on a worn man’s neck.
That’s all I wanted to be.
Sometimes I ask for too much just to feel my mouth overflow.
Discovery: my longest pubic hair is 1.2 inches.
Good or bad?
7:18 a.m. Kevin overdosed last night. His sister left a message. Couldn’t listen
to all of it. That makes three this year.
I promise to stop soon.
Spilled orange juice all over the table this morning. Sudden sunlight
I couldn’t wipe away.
My hands were daylight all through the night.
Woke up at 1 a.m and, for no reason, ran through Duffy’s cornfield. Boxers only.
Corn was dry. I sounded like a fire,
for no reason.
Grandma said In the war they would grab a baby, a soldier at each ankle, and pull…
Just like that.
It’s finally spring! Daffodils everywhere.
Just like that.
There are over 13,000 unidentified body parts from the World Trade Center
being stored in an underground repository in New York City.
Good or bad?
Shouldn’t heaven be superheavy by now?
Maybe rain is “sweet” because it falls
through so much of the world.
Even sweetness can scratch the throat, so stir the sugar well.—Grandma
4:37 a.m. How come depression makes me feel more alive?
Life is funny.
Note to self: If a guy tells you his favorite poet is Jack Kerouac,
there’s a very good chance he’s a douchebag.
Note to self: If Orpheus were a woman, I wouldn’t be stuck down here.
Why do all my books leave me empty-handed?
In Vietnamese, the word for grenade is “bom,” from the French “pomme,”
Or was it American for “bomb”?
Woke up screaming with no sound. The room filling with a bluish water
called dawn. Went to kiss grandma on the forehead
just in case.
An American soldier fucked a Vietnamese farmgirl. Thus my mother exists.
Thus I exist. Thus no bombs = no family = no me.
9:47 a.m. Jerked off four times already. My arm kills.
Eggplant = cà pháo = “grenade tomato.” Thus nourishment defined
I met a man tonight. A high school English teacher
from the next town. A small town. Maybe
I shouldn’t have, but he had the hands
of someone I used to know. Someone I was used to.
The way they formed brief churches
over the table as he searched for the right words.
I met a man, not you. In his room the Bibles shook on the shelf
from candlelight. His scrotum a bruised fruit. I kissed it
lightly, the way one might kiss a grenade
before hurling it into the night’s mouth.
Maybe the tongue is also a key.
I could eat you he said, brushing my cheek with his knuckles.
I think I love my mom very much.
Some grenades explode with a vision of white flowers.
Baby’s breath blooming in a darkened sky, across
Maybe the tongue is also a pin.
I’m going to lose it when Whitney Houston dies.
I met a man. I promise to stop.
A pillaged village is a fine example of a perfect rhyme. He said that.
He was white. Or maybe, I was just beside myself, next to him.
Either way, I forgot his name by heart.
I wonder what it feels like to move at the speed of thirst—if it’s as fast
as lying on the kitchen floor with the lights off.
6:24 a.m. Greyhound station. One-way ticket to New York City: $36.75.
6:57 a.m. I love you, mom.
When the prison guards burned his manuscripts, Nguyễn Chí Thiện couldn’t stop
laughing—the 283 poems already inside him.
I dreamed I walked barefoot all the way to your house in the snow. Everything
was the blue of smudged ink
and you were still alive. There was even a light the shade of sunrise inside
God must be a season, grandma said, looking out at the blizzard drowning
My footsteps on the sidewalk were the smallest flights.
Dear god, if you are a season, let it be the one I passed through
to get here.
Here. That’s all I wanted to be.
This poem appeared in Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2016. Shared here with profound gratitude.
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