“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?