(17) A Voice [By Pat Mora]

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Poem Instructions: Find one of your favorite poems from a famous author, and then write a paragraph of analysis for that poem.

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A Voice (Poem)

by Pat Mora

Even the lights on the stage unrelenting
as the desert sun couldn’t hide the other
students, their eyes also unrelenting,
students who spoke English every night

as they ate their meat, potatoes, gravy.
Not you. In your house that smelled like
rose powder, you spoke Spanish formal
as your father, the judge without a courtroom

in the country he floated to in the dark
on a flatbed truck. He walked slow
as a hot river down the narrow hall
of your house. You never dared to race past him,

to say, “Please move,” in the language
you learned effortlessly, as you learned to run,
the language forbidden at home, though your mother
said you learned it to fight with the neighbors.

You liked winning with words. You liked
writing speeches about patriotism and democracy.
You liked all the faces looking at you, all those eyes.
“How did I do it?” you ask me now. “How did I do it

when my parents didn’t understand?”
The family story says your voice is the voice
of an aunt in Mexico, spunky as a peacock.
Family stories sing of what lives in the blood.

You told me only once about the time you went
to the state capitol, your family proud as if
you’d been named governor. But when you looked
around, the only Mexican in the auditorium,

you wanted to hide from those strange faces.
Their eyes were pinpricks, and you faked
hoarseness. You, who are never at a loss
for words, felt your breath stick in your throat

like an ice-cube. “I can’t,” you whispered.
“I can’t.” Yet you did. Not that day but years later.
You taught the four of us to speak up.
This is America, Mom. The undo-able is done

in the next generation. Your breath moves
through the family like the wind
moves through the trees.

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A Voice (Poem Analysis)

This poem is about a next-generation Mexican family. The themes of this poem are racism, courage, strength, defiance, bravery, and the power to overcome. The poem is narrated from the perspective of a girl who is part of the next-generation Mexican family. The writing technique for this poem is enjambment which is the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, couplet, or stanza. There is no specific rhyme scheme or meter.

The speaker’s father came to America as an illegal immigrant many years ago, and started his own family in this new country. He demands a lot of respect from his children (“judge without a courtroom” and “you never dared to race past him, to say, ‘Please move.'”) The children are forbidden to speak English in the house, so that they will not forget their heritage and where they came from. Next, the speaker goes on to share about her experience at the speech contest. Her family was very proud of her and went to see her speak, but she ended up not giving the speech because she was a minority at the contest and didn’t feel comfortable sharing (“their eyes were pinpricks”). The speaker then goes on to praise her mom for teaching her not to be shy, not to worry about the color of her skin, and to be proud of who she is (“you taught the four of us to speak up” and “your breath moves through the family like the wind moves through the trees”). To me, the most powerful line of this poem is “the undo-able is done in the next generation.” This line shows us the power of a parent’s love. Every parent wants to provide their children with more than what they have right now, and hopes that their children will on day be able to achieve what they themselves could not.

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