by Li-Young Lee
On the one hand, the fact that all the conversations in this poem are part of an "old story" is a way of tying them together within one long (immigrant) tradition. But using the term "story" also draws our attention to the way that we turn events into stories – narratives that help us understand ourselves and the world around us. Our speaker seems to be very aware of how important this sort of story, and the words we use to describe it, can be, because he keeps bringing it up again and again… and again.
- Line 3: The phrase "second tongue" is so common it barely registers as a metaphor anymore. But we think it's worth pointing out. "Tongue" refers to that slab of muscle in your mouth that we all know well. But, given how integral that muscle is for speaking, the word gets used to refer to a language, as in: "English is my native tongue, but I took some Spanish in high school." In some ways, this metaphor sets us up for the next bit of wordplay we're going to talk about.
- Lines 12-13: We're going to call this an implied metaphor, with the foreign language being equated to something solid that you could feel inside you, as if it were a part of your body. Like, for instance, your tongue.
- Lines 21-22: Every good storyteller knows there are some linguistic tricks you can do to build momentum, and this is one of them. This anaphora – repeating "at peace with" at the beginning of two lines in a row – is actually one of many instances of that clever linguistic move throughout the poem.
- Lines 4, 6, 30: Of course, anaphora isn't the only way that repetition can be used. The most notable repetition in the poem is probably this refrain that we get a couple times at the beginning, and then again at the end – "it's the same [old/ancient] story". It brings all the separate parts of this poem together under the umbrella of an old (or ancient) story, while at the same time providing a launching point for all the different titles that are introduced.
- Line 30: There's something that doesn't sound quite right in this last occurrence of the refrain. If the story is ancient, it can't be from just yesterday. That would make it brand new, right? This line gives us a sort of paradox (ancient yet brand new) that helps express the way that the story is ancient (has happened many times before, going all the way back to ancient times) yet still ongoing. It's still occurring in the lives of immigrants today.