31 delicious lines from Ocean Vuong's “On Earth we're briefly gorgeous”.

Written by Cole Schafer

Pound for pound, Ocean Vuong might be the greatest sentence writer I’ve ever come across –– more so than even Charles Bukowski and Ernest Hemingway.

His first and only novel to date, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, is blooming with such an array of delicious imagery and succulent sentences that, at times, you find yourself needing to put it down to cleanse your palate and dab your mouth with a clean, well-starched napkin, before continuing on.

Anyway, here are a few dozen lines of Vuongs that made me pause…

*Ocean Vuong is typing now*

  1. I think now of that buck, how you stared into its black glass eyes and saw your reflection, your whole body, warped in that lifeless mirror. How it was not the grotesque mounting of a decapitated animal that shook you –– but that the taxidermy embodied a death that won’t finish, a death that keeps dying as we walk past it to relive ourselves.
  2. We would get a small paper bag containing maybe five or six squares of chocolate we had picked at random. This was often all we bought at the mall. Then we’d walk, passing one back and forth until our fingers shone inky and sweet. “This is how you enjoy your life,” you’d say, sucking your fingers, their pink nail polish chipped from a week of giving pedicures.
  3. Our hands empty except for our hands.
  4. I had never seen so much movement in sleep before –– except in dogs who run in dreams none of us will ever know.
  5. She sat up, her shoulder-length hair splayed out behind her like a cartoon character just blasted with TNT.
  6. “Finish it.” She pointed with her chin at the bowl. “Every grain of rice you leave behind is one maggot you eat in hell.”
  7. Outside, the leaves fell, fat and wet as dirty money, across the windows.
  8. “When we get this high up, the clouds turn into boulders –– hard rocks –– that’s what you’re feeling.”
  9. Everything good is always somewhere else.
  10. He smokes the way one smokes after a funeral.
  11. It’s a shotgun. It shoots two eaters at once. They eat your lungs inside out. Little dog, tell her.
  12. Your hands are hideous –– and I hate everything that made them that way. I hate how they are the wreck and reckoning of a dream.
  13. I hate and love your battered hands for what they can never be.
  14. He has just finished crying and is now entering that state where his jaw shudders to calm itself shut.
  15. Because that’s what mothers do. They wait. They stand still until their children belong to someone else.
  16. Everybody wants to sit higher and higher.
  17. We were exchanging truths, I realized, which is to say, we were cutting one another.
  18. He looked like Elvis on his last day alive.
  19. Isn’t that the saddest thing in the world, Ma? A comma forced to be a period?
  20. Where the Evangelical boss –– the one with nose pores so large, biscuit crumbs from his lunch would get lodged in them –– never gave us any breaks.
  21. What if I’m running outside because the moon tonight is children’s book huge.
  22. I miss you more than I remember you.
  23. Round the corner by the traffic light blinking yellow. Because that’s what the lights do in our town after midnight –– they forget why they’re here.
  24. The room is silent as a photograph.
  25. 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.
  26. The Greeks thought sex was the attempt of two bodies, separated long ago, to return to one life.
  27. Then, your chin turning into a peach pit, you lower your face into your hands.
  28. –– as if a name is also a sound we can be found in.
  29. How it was pouring rain or it was snowing or the streets were flooded or the sky was the color of bruises.
  30. Then he grew quiet. Then his eyelashes. You could hear them think.
  31. They say if you want something bad enough you’ll end up making a god out of it.

By Cole Schafer (but mostly Ocean Vuong).

P.S. If poetry makes you swoon, peruse these pieces on Billy Collins and Charles Bukowski.