Maybe fragments are what make my life. I gather them all together in my arms, carry what I can, from place to place: Here is where things have become disastrous; here is where I learned to live through the pain; here is where I’ve come to stand, knees trembling, after being bent double in grief.

In a postcard which I wrote to my future self, I said, “The universe, in general, is kind. And isn’t that fantastic? You’ve got to trust the process, love.”

I don’t ask for much these days, other than to occupy the spaces surrounding the word here.

Maybe a fragment is what I am, all these years: Here is the self that threatens to crumble; here is the self who died a thousand times; here is the self who lived anyway.

I am thirty-two today. The unknown before me.

The mantra falls from my lips like a promise: Here. Here. Here.

Notebook Fragments
Ocean Vuong

A scar’s width of warmth on a worn man’s neck.
                  That’s all I wanted to be.

Sometimes I ask for too much just to feel my mouth overflow.

Discovery: my longest pubic hair is 1.2 inches.

Good or bad?

7:18 a.m. Kevin overdosed last night. His sister left a message. Couldn’t listen
                  to all of it. That makes three this year.

I promise to stop soon.

Spilled orange juice all over the table this morning. Sudden sunlight
                  I couldn’t wipe away.

My hands were daylight all through the night.

Woke up at 1 a.m and, for no reason, ran through Duffy’s cornfield. Boxers only.

Corn was dry. I sounded like a fire,
                  for no reason.

Grandma said In the war they would grab a baby, a soldier at each ankle, and pull…
                  Just like that.

It’s finally spring! Daffodils everywhere.
                  Just like that.

There are over 13,000 unidentified body parts from the World Trade Center
                  being stored in an underground repository in New York City.

Good or bad?

Shouldn’t heaven be superheavy by now?

Maybe rain is “sweet” because it falls
                  through so much of the world.

Even sweetness can scratch the throat, so stir the sugar well.—Grandma

4:37 a.m. How come depression makes me feel more alive?

Life is funny.

Note to self: If a guy tells you his favorite poet is Jack Kerouac,
                  there’s a very good chance he’s a douchebag.

Note to self: If Orpheus were a woman, I wouldn’t be stuck down here.

Why do all my books leave me empty-handed?

In Vietnamese, the word for grenade is “bom,” from the French “pomme,”
                  meaning “apple.”

Or was it American for “bomb”?

Woke up screaming with no sound. The room filling with a bluish water
                  called dawn. Went to kiss grandma on the forehead

just in case.

An American soldier fucked a Vietnamese farmgirl. Thus my mother exists.
                  Thus I exist. Thus no bombs = no family = no me.


9:47 a.m. Jerked off four times already. My arm kills.

Eggplant = cà pháo = “grenade tomato.” Thus nourishment defined
                  by extinction.

I met a man tonight. A high school English teacher
                  from the next town. A small town. Maybe

I shouldn’t have, but he had the hands
                  of someone I used to know. Someone I was used to.

The way they formed brief churches
                  over the table as he searched for the right words.

I met a man, not you. In his room the Bibles shook on the shelf
                  from candlelight. His scrotum a bruised fruit. I kissed it

lightly, the way one might kiss a grenade
                  before hurling it into the night’s mouth.

Maybe the tongue is also a key.


I could eat you he said, brushing my cheek with his knuckles.

I think I love my mom very much.

Some grenades explode with a vision of white flowers.

Baby’s breath blooming in a darkened sky, across
                  my chest.

Maybe the tongue is also a pin.

I’m going to lose it when Whitney Houston dies.

I met a man. I promise to stop.

A pillaged village is a fine example of a perfect rhyme. He said that.

He was white. Or maybe, I was just beside myself, next to him.

Either way, I forgot his name by heart.

I wonder what it feels like to move at the speed of thirst—if it’s as fast
                  as lying on the kitchen floor with the lights off.


6:24 a.m. Greyhound station. One-way ticket to New York City: $36.75.

6:57 a.m. I love you, mom.

When the prison guards burned his manuscripts, Nguyễn Chí Thiện couldn’t stop
                  laughing—the 283 poems already inside him.

I dreamed I walked barefoot all the way to your house in the snow. Everything
                  was the blue of smudged ink

and you were still alive. There was even a light the shade of sunrise inside
                  your window.

God must be a season, grandma said, looking out at the blizzard drowning
                  her garden.

My footsteps on the sidewalk were the smallest flights.

Dear god, if you are a season, let it be the one I passed through
                  to get here.

Here. That’s all I wanted to be.

I promise.

This is from Night Sky with Exit Wounds by Ocean Vuong, published by Copper Canyon Press, 2016.

R. came by today and poured his heart out. There he was, gasping at the pain of it, clasping at something unnameable on his chest, keening, why does it hurt so much? I held his hand.

I wish I could tell you there was an answer, I began. I held his hand.

He asked me about the people in my life, and I felt my heart constrict a little. At what has gone by. At what has passed. He asked me if I have loved. If I have lost. Our faces are both wet and maybe there is no need for words. I held his hand.

What can we ever really do when we are broken? Because I’ve been here, I tell him, you are loved, and are worthy of being loved. I held his hand.

from East Coker
T.S. Eliot

So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years–
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it, and so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate–but there is no competition–
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

Arrived at the here and now, again.

The new year breeds a new batch of questions. All longing to be answered, though not all meant to have one that will be easy to accept nor understand. Yet they are there, nevertheless, waiting to be asked.

Beginning, again.

The Broken Sandal
Denise Levertov

Dreamed the thong of my sandal broke.
Nothing to hold it to my foot.
How shall I walk?
The sharp stones, the dirt. I would
Where was I going?
Where was I going I can’t
go to now, unless hurting?
Where am I standing, if I’m
to stand still now?

This is from Poems 1968-1972 by Denise Levertov, published by New Directions, 1987.

This is one of those beginnings where I’m both sure and unsure of what would happen to me. I know what I must do now, and I have a plan to do it, and yet it feels very much like I’m standing before a yawning abyss. Either I’m moving further forward towards the life I make, or I’m about to make a colossal mistake. It’s deliriously exciting and terrifying.

Maybe all I can do at this point is forgive myself for what I’m about to do and what I will be unable to do, as the days come.

I mean, that’s all the self is asking, right? To be loved and to be forgiven, and to be brave. The bravest I can be.

Happy new year.

i am running into a new year
Lucille Clifton

i am running into a new year
and the old years blow back
like a wind
that i catch in my hair
like strong fingers like
all my old promises and
it will be hard to let go
of what i said to myself
about myself
when i was sixteen and
twenty-six and thirty-six
even thirty-six but
i am running into a new year
and i beg what i love and
i leave to forgive me

Belly full, and mind, and heart. An hour past midnight and well into a new morning. Thinking about all the days that led to this, and all the days after this one.

Sometimes I find it so simple—to be happy. And sometimes it is exhausting and terribly difficult, and you almost question why until you catch yourself, and gently remember that in this world there are more questions than there are answers, and that’s okay.

This moment: at the table, surrounded by people you love, a glass of wine in hand, and that quiet realisation that maybe this is all you need for tonight. That maybe this night will get you through other nights.

Enough. Enough now.

Merry Christmas.

Galway Kinnell

Whatever happens. Whatever
what is is is what
I want. Only that. But that.

Last night, a flurry of selves.

I was revealing my naked face to people I trust to take care of these truths.

Sometimes even I’m surprised at my deep capacity to be vulnerable. It’s terrifying.

The world chafes, for all its beauty.

Eamon Grennan

I was watching a robin fly after a finch — the smaller bird
chirping with excitement, the bigger, its breast blazing, silent
in light-winged earnest chase — when, out of nowhere
over the chimneys and the shivering front gardens,
flashes a sparrowhawk headlong, a light brown burn
scorching the air from which it simply plucks
like a ripe fruit the stopped robin, whose two or three
cheeps of terminal surprise twinkle in the silence
closing over the empty street when the birds have gone
about their own business, and I began to understand
how a poem can happen: you have your eye on a small
elusive detail, pursuing its music, when a terrible truth
strikes and your heart cries out, being carried off.

This is from Still Life with Waterfall: Poems by Eamon Grennan, published by Graywolf Press, 2002.

She’s a marvel, my love is, is how a letter ends. This is how a stranger tells me about lives unfurling, and of which I have no part of but am a witness to all the same.

I think it is incredibly brave and endearing, making room for wonderment.

It was difficult to get up today. It took hours. What are you if not some wounded animal, I think.

But to be thankful nevertheless. To be grateful for things that arrange themselves into your life precisely because there is room.

I have been, at some point, been astonished by someone’s being. I wonder now if anyone, at some point, has been amazed that I exist.

But shouldn’t that have been: what a marvel that I exist!

It is exactly what you think it is, I whisper to myself, birds fluttering about inside my chest.

Demand It Courageously
Julia Hartwig

    Make some room for yourself, human animal.
    Even a dog jostles about on his master’s lap to
improve his position. And when he needs space he
runs forward, without paying attention to commands
or calls.
    If you didn’t manage to receive freedom as a gift,
demand it as courageously as bread and meat.
    Make some room for yourself, human pride and
    The Czech writer Hrabal said:
    I have as much freedom as I take.

This is from In Praise of the Unfinished by Julia Hartwig, published by Knopf, 2008.