Ocean, don’t be afraid.
The end of the road is so far ahead
it is already behind us.
Don’t worry. Your father is only your father
until one of you forgets. Like how the spine
won’t remember its wings
no matter how many times our knees
kiss the pavement. Ocean,
are you listening? The most beautiful part
of your body is wherever
your mother's shadow falls.
Here's the house with childhood
whittled down to a single red trip wire.
Don't worry. Just call it horizon
& you'll never reach it.
Here's today. Jump. I promise it's not
a lifeboat. Here's the man
whose arms are wide enough to gather
your leaving. & here the moment,
just after the lights go out, when you can still see
the faint torch between his legs.
How you use it again & again
to find your own hands.
You asked for a second chance
& are given a mouth to empty out of.
Don't be afraid, the gunfire
is only the sound of people
trying to live a little longer
& failing. Ocean. Ocean —
get up. The most beautiful part of your body
is where it's headed. & remember,
loneliness is still time spent
with the world. Here's
the room with everyone in it.
Your dead friends passing
through you like wind
through a wind chime. Here's a desk
with the gimp leg & a brick
to make it last. Yes, here's a room
so warm & blood-close,
I swear, you will wake —
& mistake these walls
Ocean Vuong, "Someday, I'll Love Ocean Vuong" from Night Sky With Exit Wounds. Copyright © 2016 by Ocean Vuong. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press, www.coppercanyonpress.com
Source: Night Sky With Exit Wounds (Copper Canyon Press, 2016)
1. The poet uses his own name several times, addressing his younger self. What effect does this repetition have on your reading of the poem? How do you think the poem would be different if it were written in the first person “I” voice?
2. What do you think it means for a poem to be “embodied?” What about a memory? Pause for a moment and close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Inhale deeply, in through your nose and out through your mouth. If you had to draw a map of emotions over your body, where in your body would you locate loneliness, envy, joy, sadness, anger? Write a line for each of those feelings without naming them. Instead, focusing on the sensations and place in your body where you feel them. See if your partner or other classmates can identify which feeling you were trying to convey. Remember, there is no right or wrong answer!
3. Which images in the poem do you find most stimulating, surprising, evocative, memorable, touching, meaningful? What are your personal associations with those images?
4. Find three examples in the poem of short lines in the imperative voice (i.e., telling someone what to do: “Stand up. Sit down.”). How does the mix of short and long lines affect your reading of the poem when you read it out loud? Which lines cause you to speed up and which ones force you to slow down? Why do you think the poet chose this effect?
5. Who are the other people in the poem? What does the poem suggest about the speaker’s relationships to them, and possibly about different aspects of his own identity (race, class, gender, sexuality)?
6. What does the poem suggest about the younger Ocean’s community and home environment? What sensory images (colours, smells, sounds, textures, tastes) bring them to life without actually telling us?
7. Imagine yourself at a younger age. Make some notes about your life at that time. What fears did you have? What personal challenges did you face, external (at home, at school) or internal (emotionally, personally)? What brought you joy and excitement? What did you struggle with? What do you think you were learning? Now, write a love poem to your younger self, offering them kindness, compassion and reassurance. Put your own name in the poem, and repeat it a few times in your poem, as you would if you were addressing a younger child. Make sure to include varying sentence lengths, including short imperatives (e.g. “Don’t worry,” or “Take your time.”). Title the poem, “Someday I’ll Love ________ (your name)”
Listen to Ocean Vuong reading: https://poetryarchive.org/poem/someday-ill-love-ocean-vuong/