“The cathedral in his sea-black eyes”: Ocean Vuong’s “Telemachus” from Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Recently I read Ocean Vuong‘s much-lauded collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds, his first full-length collection.

Night Sky with Exit WoundsIt is indeed a remarkable collection: so open, so intimate, so assured. I was impressed by the range of forms (including haibun, which I don’t come across too often), especially by “Seventh Circle of Earth,” which responds to the murder of two gay men. The poem consists of the numerals 1 through 7 spread out like a constellation over two pages; each number corresponds to a footnote, where the words of the poem reside. The effect is moving—the words are literally too small to do justice to the tragedy; the numbers are bleak.

Night Sky with Exit Wounds is—as you might expect from a book that deals with grief, displacement and the immigrant experience, domestic violence, suicide, sexuality, and love—intense. Take “Telemachus,” in which the speaker does not, as you might expect, assist his Odysseus-father in conquering  his lost kingdom. Instead,

Like any good son, I pull my father out
of the water, drag him by his hair

through sand, his knuckles carving a trail
the waves rush in to erase.

It’s an evocative poem, one that left me surprised at each turn. If you like “Telemachus,” which you can read in full here, then I commend Night Sky with Exit Wounds to your reading.

What poems are you reading this week?

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4 thoughts on ““The cathedral in his sea-black eyes”: Ocean Vuong’s “Telemachus” from Night Sky with Exit Wounds

  1. That sounds so striking! How interesting. I’m still not reading any poems this week. I wonder how many weeks I will see what poems you’re reading, confess that I’m not reading any currently, feel the twinge of wishing that I was reading some, but then still just settle into my stack of novels and stories. Hmmm. Well, this week there is a graphic novel and a play in there too. So, things are picking up with the change in seasons!

    • I’ve found that even though I am a poet and love reading poetry, it’s often easier to reach for the narrative (fiction or nonfiction) because my mind is accustomed to working in that kind of channel; poetry is more challenging, in that respect. Writing a weekly poetry post has opened my eyes to how much wonderful work is out there!

      • Too often perhaps, we do simply reach for what’s within easy reach. And, you’re quite right, even the most challenging prose feels easier to me than verse. Although, I’ve just begun George Elliott Clarke’s George & Rue, and it might as well be shelved in the 800s (loving it however)!

  2. Pingback: Another Year in Books: Best of 2016 | Rosemary and Reading Glasses

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