Book//mark – On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous | Ocean Vuong, 2019

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous | Ocean Vuong, 2019
 Ocean Vuong                                                               On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, 2019


“Dear Ma, I am writing to reach you—even if each word I put down is one word further from where you are.”

“In Vietnamese, the word for missing someone and remembering them is the same: nhớ. Sometimes, when you ask me over the phone, Có nhớ mẹ không? I flinch, thinking you meant, Do you remember me?

I miss you more than I remember you.”

“They say nothing lasts forever but they’re just scared it will last longer than they can love it.”

“What were you before you met me?”
“I think I was drowning”
“And what are you now?”

“You once told me that the human eye is god’s loneliest creation. How so much of the world passes through the pupil and still it holds nothing. The eye, alone in its socket, doesn’t even know there’s another one, just like it, an inch away, just as hungry, as empty.”

“In a world myriad as ours, the gaze is a singular act: to look at something is to fill your
whole life with it, if only briefly.”

“Because the 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.”

“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?”

“Too much joy, I swear, is lost in our desperation to keep it.”

“Remember: The rules, like streets, can only take you to known places.”

“Sometimes being offered tenderness feels like the very proof that you’ve been ruined.”

“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. Because sometimes not seeing the bars is enough”

“To destroy a people, then, is to set them back in time.”

“Do you remember the happiest day of your life? What about the saddest? Do you ever
wonder if sadness and happiness can be combined, to make a deep purple feeling,
not good, not bad, but remarkable simply because you didn’t have to live on o
ne side or the other?”

“I wanted to cry but did not yet know how to in English. So I did nothing.”

“I am writing because they told me to never start a sentence with because. But I wasn’t trying
to make a sentence—I was trying to break free. Because freedom, I am told, is nothing but
the distance between the hunter and its prey.”

“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,
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.”

“I’m sorry I keep saying How are you? when I really mean Are you happy?”

“He loves me, he loves me not, we are taught to say, as we tear the flower from its flowerness.
To arrive at love, then, is to arrive through obliteration. Eviscerate me, we mean to say,
and I’ll tell you the truth.”

“We try to preserve life, even when we know it has no chance of enduring its body. We feed it,
keep it comfortable, bathe it, medicate it, caress it, even sing to it. We tend to these basic
functions not because we are brave or selfless but because, like breath, it is the most
fundamental act of our species: to sustain the body until time leaves it behind.”

“I am writing you from inside a body that used to be yours.
Which is to say, I am writing as a son.”

“There is so much I want to tell you, Ma. I was once foolish enough to believe knowledge would
clarify, but some things are so gauzed behind layers of syntax and semantics, behind days and
hours, names forgotten, salvaged and shed, that simply knowing the wound exists does nothing
to reveal it.
I don’t know what I’m saying. I guess what I mean is that sometimes I don’t know what or
who we are. Days I feel like a human being, while other days I feel more like a sound.
I touch the world not as myself but as an echo of who I was. Can you hear me yet?
Can you read me?”

“Ma. You once told me that memory is a choice.
But if you were god, you’d know it’s a flood.”

“They say nothing lasts forever and I’m writing you
in the voice of an endangered species.”

Ocean Vuong, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, 2019


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