Time Is A Mother by Ocean Vuong is a poetry collection which delves into the aftermath of the speaker’s mother, his queerness, and what it means to exist in America as Asian. The sophomore poetry collection is heavy in its use of themes, lyricality, and overall metaphor, that I was astounded with Vuong’s handle of language. The poetry bleeds, and it’s hard to put into words the length the collection works to show the wounds and contemplation that Vuong has imbued in each poem.
More particularly, I was drawn to ‘Dear Rose’, which is one of the last poems in the collection and begins in the same way that ‘On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous’ does using the line, “Let me begin again now”. In this way, it both contributes/continues the narrative from ‘Gorgeous’, as if this loss has been eating away at the speaker the whole entire time. The poem itself has lines such as “are you reading this dear/reader are you my mom yet” that ache with the want of his mother, something us, the reader, will never be able to give. The speaker knows this, but still he asks because it is the only thing he can do. Vuong delves into masculinity and the way we use language to mimic that of war in ‘Old Glory’ and ‘American Legend’. I recall reading ‘Künstlerroman’ in Freeman’s: Change and still I gravitate to the piece, and its line “The cake on the table, air returning to the boy’s pursed lips and the seven candles, one by one, begin to light, and the wish returns to his head where it’s truer for never being touched by language.” This desire and hope and sadness are all of what the speaker has left once their mother has left them. The collection ends with the line “& I was free.” which is the one final grief-filled note that, in many ways feels like there is something after all of the pain that the speaker has endured.
It is a beautiful, powerful, and tactful collection of poems that will stay with me for a long time.
Final Rating: 5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.