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242 pages, Paperback
First published June 4, 2019
“All freedom is relative—you know too well—and sometimes it’s no freedom at all, but simply the cage widening far away from you, the bars abstracted with distance but still there, as when they “free” wild animals into nature preserves only to contain them yet again by larger borders. But I took it anyway, that widening.”
I am thinking of beauty again, how some things are hunted because we have deemed them beautiful. If, relative to the history of our planet, an individual life is so short, a blink of an eye, as they say, then to be gorgeous, even from the day you’re born to the day you die, is to be gorgeous only briefly…sunset, like survival, exists only on the verge of its own disappearing. To be gorgeous, you must first be seen, but to be seen allows you to be hunted.Take one beam of light. Direct it through a prism. It will separate into its component colors. Reading Ocean Vuong is a bit like this. He takes words, images, and concepts, beams them through his prismatic, gravitic artistry, and the result is a spreading rainbow, bending in several directions. It is a bit of a trip reading On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. Go ahead, take the Vuong acid. This is a trip worth taking.
“Everything good is somewhere else, baby. I’m telling you.”
In the nail salon, sorry is a tool one used to pander until the word itself becomes currency. It no longer merely apologizes, but insists, reminds: I'm here, right here, beneath you. It is the lowering of oneself so that the client feels right, superior, and charitable. In the nail salon, one’s definition of sorry is deranged into a new work entirely, one that’s charged and reused as both power and defacement at once. Being sorry pays, being sorry even, or especially, when one has no fault, is worth every self-deprecating syllable the mouth allows. Because the mouth must eat.The History. Family. Little Dog tells of his grandmother, Lan, in Viet Nam, marrying a GI, bearing him a child, Little Dog’s mother. Being left behind when the USA fled. His history with his grandmother, their closeness, how she protected him as much as she could. When he was tasked with plucking the white hairs from her head, she would tell him stories.
As I plucked, the blank walls around us did not so much fill with fantastical landscapes as open to them, the plaster disintegrating to reveal the past behind it. Scenes from the war, mythologies of manlike monkeys, of ancient ghost catchers from the hills of Da Lat who were paid in jugs of rice wine, who traveled through villages with packs of wild dogs and spells written on palm leaves to dispel evil spirits.The story of his mother, growing up in Viet Nam, ostracized for being too white, her PTSD as an adult, and how that manifested as physical abuse of her son.
Sometimes you are erased before you are given the choice of stating who you are.The story of Little Dog’s contending with the dual challenges of being a yellow boy in a white place, (Hartford, Connecticut), in the poorer parts, and a gay one, to boot. Coming of age as a gay male teenager, first experiencing sex and a lasting relationship, until well, you’ll see.
Reading was particularly hard, and he suspects that dyslexia runs in his family, though he says now: “I think perhaps the disability helped me a bit, because I write very slowly and see words as objects. I’m always trying to look for words inside words. It’s so beautiful to me that the word laughter is inside slaughter.” - from The RumpusHe writes of the body as a form of language.
I am writing you from inside a body that used to be yours. Which is to say, I am writing as a son. If we are lucky, the end of the sentence is where we might begin. If we are lucky, something is passed on, another alphabet written in the blood, sinew, and neuron…And
It’s in these moments, next to you, that I envy words for doing what we can never do—how they can tell all of themselves simply by standing still, simply by being.The sadness of loss permeates. Little Dog has his own losses to grieve, his mother and grandmother far more. But there is recognition, also, that the trials of the past have allowed for some of the good things of the present. This is not a pity party.
Imagine I could lie down beside you and my whole body, every cell, radiates a clear, singular meaning, not so much a writer as a word pressed down beside you.
Freedom, I am told, is nothing but the distance between the hunter and the prey.You get the idea. And plenty more where those came from.
the past never a fixed and dormant landscape but one that is re-seen. Whether we want to or not, we are traveling in a spiral, we are creating something new from what is gone.
I want to insist that our being alive is beautiful enough to be worthy of replication. And so what? So what if all I ever made of my life was more of it?
“is that what art is? to be touched thinking what we feel is ours when, in the end, it was someone else, in longing, who finds us?”