by Li-Young Lee
Lines 24-34 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Am I inside you? I asked once
lying between her legs, confused
about the body and the heart.
- Our speaker once again asks the woman the same question, but now they're in bed together. Again, he's confused about inside and outside, flesh and soul, body and heart.
- And what is he asking? He might be asking this: just because part of my body is inside you, does that really mean that I'm inside you? Or, to boil it down: is my body me? How do our bodies relate to who we are? Are the body and the heart the same thing?
- This is getting deep, so bear with us.
If you don't believe you're inside me, you're not,
she answered, at peace with the body's greed,
at peace with the heart's bewilderment.
- This time the woman says that being "inside" or not depends on whether he believes that he is. Why does she answer this way? Because she's at peace with lust and with the confusion of physical and emotional entanglement.
- Her answer seems to be this: just because we're having sex does not mean we're really connected.
- For her, he has to feel that connection. It has to be something mental or emotional, too, otherwise, he isn't actually inside her. He has to believe, in his mind, that they are connected.
- So what's the deal with all this talk of his lady friend being at peace with everything? Well, we're not sure, but once again, it tells us that our speaker is definitely not at peace with those things.
It's an ancient story from yesterday evening
called "Patterns of Love in Peoples of Diaspora,"
- Our speaker refers to his conversation as an ancient story even though it happened yesterday evening. This is a strange kind of paradox. The story came from yesterday evening, so it's quite new. But it's also part of a much longer, older story – that of the immigrant experience. So this story he's telling is both old and new, all at the same time.
- And of course, our speaker has to give this story a new title. This one sounds an awful lot like that other one: "Psychological Paradigms of Displaced Persons." In fact, it's almost as though our speaker has just switched synonyms for most of the words: "Patterns" for "Paradigm," "Peoples of Diaspora" for "Displaced Peoples." Okay, "Love" isn't quite the same thing as "Psychological," but you get what we mean.
- That similarity makes us even surer that our speaker is trying to get at the same thing each time, just using different words, trying to get the name for the immigrant experience right, but showing that it's impossible to do so from these academic, objective standpoints.
- We find out in these lines that being an immigrant reaches into many different arenas of personal life. It affects not just the relationship between father and son, but romantic ones as well.
- And although we could call each of these conversations a separate story, they certainly all sound like part of one old tale.
called "Loss of the Homeplace
and the Defilement of the Beloved,"
- Wow, this guy just can't resist giving us titles.
- "Loss of the Homeplace" is definitely in keeping with the ideas we've heard before in these story names ("Displaced," "Diaspora"), but it does sound a little less academic than the other names he's tried out.
- But what in the world does "Defilement of the Beloved" mean? We're not quite certain, so let's go ahead and break it down. "Defilement" is a sort of ruining or corrupting. Usually the word "Beloved" is used to refer to a loved one (often a lover), and since we just saw this guy interacting with a romantic interest, we can assume that's what he means: things aren't going well in Loveland for the speaker.
- It seems like, for our speaker, being an immigrant (i.e. losing your "Homeplace") makes it hard for to find – or maintain – love. You know that saying "You have to love yourself before you can truly love someone else"? It might just be that our speaker – detached from his homeland – doesn't feel complete on his own, and so has trouble loving others. What do you think?
called "I Want to Sing but I Don't Know Any Songs."
- Our speaker gives this story one last name: "I Want to Sing but I Don't Know Any Songs."
- The first thing that strikes us is how gosh darn sad this is, to want to sing but to not know any songs.
- This is definitely the least academic out of all the titles in the poem. There's a first person speaker, and it almost sounds more like the title for a memoir than an academic article.
- We're pretty sure this title is an important one – it is the last line of the poem, after all. It definitely connects to the idea of language, which was brought up earlier in the poem, because songs are generally sung with words.
- So what's this all about? Well, imagine you're in a new country with a new language, and you want to sing. What's the problem? You don't know the words (or even the tune, maybe)! Not knowing the songs of a place is yet another sign of being a foreigner – it makes you feel detached.
- Could it be that our speaker, an immigrant, doesn't feel comfortable writing in English? (He sure tricked us!) If you've ever studied a foreign language in school, you know that it's much easier to have an academic conversation in that language than it is to have a casual, colloquial conversation. Maybe our immigrant speaker just can't find the right words to express himself.
- That means that this last title is kind of a comment on those other, more academic titles: he's saying that no matter how he puts it, he just can't find the right words to describe his immigrant blues.
- (Side note: Remember the title of this poem? "Immigrant Blues." Yep, the blues are a kind of music, and "Immigrant Blues" sounds like the title of a song. There's a longstanding connection between poetry and music, and our speaker is definitely drawing on that here.)
- In any case, this last title brings it home for us: our speaker has got the immigrant blues, and he just can't seem to shake 'em.