Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Night Sky with Exit Wounds Summary and Analysis of "Deto(nation)"


The poem "Deto(nation)" is the twenty-seventh poem in Ocean Vuong's Night Sky with Exit Wounds, and it is the fourth poem of the book's third section. The poem details the speaker's struggle to reconcile his memories of his father with the pain associated with such memories. The speaker hopes to be able to eliminate the pain associated with his father through writing ("To even write father / is to carve a portion of the day out of a bomb-bright page"), but ultimately is unable to do so entirely. At the poem's end, the speaker figuratively runs from all the "light" that confronting the memory of his father brings (evocative of a light which reveals the true misdeeds and trauma perpetrated by the father in the past) into the "night," where a clouded memory of the father resides.


The poem, despite being short, is highly crafted and technical, even in its title. The poem's concern with fatherhood, as well as the concern with nationhood as highlighted by the title's parenthesis, has appeared in many other poems in the collection—for example, "To My Father / To My Future Son" ("You move through me like rain / heard / from another country. / Yes, you have a country.")—but is here reiterated and refined. The erasure of "nation" in the title—coupled with the speaker's father living in the distance of night—would seem to suggest that the father is representative of both a faded memory and a literal distant place. This is commensurate with the understanding of Ocean Vuong's father developed in the collection's other poems of the father as both immigrant and absent. The two concepts have become muddled with time and trauma, as they have in the later poem "Daily Bread."

And this trauma runs deep: despite being able to recognize this ironic parental trauma as a kind of "joke," the speaker still recognizes that it has the force of a "bomb saying here is your father." Moreover, the trauma left by the father penetrates to the speaker's insides, even the parts that are keeping him alive: "here is your father inside / your lungs." The duality of lightness is then introduced into the poem, with one valence referring to a lack of weight and the other referring to brightness. While the speaker is able to confront the fraught memory of their father and make the earth "lighter" in doing so, writing this out and enacting it requires the speaker to almost be blinded by the light shed on his father's actions: "To even write father / is to carve a portion of the day / out of a bomb-bright page." The horror the speaker feels at writing such words is evocative of the process of writing as tackled in the later poem "Logophobia." Even though it is expressed as light, this light is harmful to the speaker and cannot be internalized as something positive: "There's enough light to drown in / but never enough to enter the bones / & stay." This conflict that the speaker faces—confronting the father's past in all evil but getting a weight off his own chest in the process—is emphasized by the enjambment which juxtaposes "& stay" with "Don't stay here." The father seems to reach forward in time and dissuade the son from confronting the truth that resides in the light, and the son acquiesces. He runs "into the night" where his clouded or incomplete picture of his father lives, and in response, his shadow grows "toward [his] father." The forces that have been pulling at the speaker the entire poem have been emphasized by the dual nature of the poem's couplets, but in the decisive action to run toward the father, the poetic form breaks, and a definite action has been taken by the final singleton line.