by Li-Young Lee
Immigrant Blues Summary
When the poem begins, a man tells his son that it's important to learn a second language since the world can be a dangerous place. Our speaker compares this father-son conversation to one he had with his own dad in the last century, and also to one he had with his son just yesterday. He then gives several titles to describe this conversation – this "story." The titles have to do with the hardship that immigrants and refugees face, and they sound an awful lot like the names of academic articles you might find in some intellectual journal.
The man tells his son to practice until he feels the new language inside him, but then our speaker questions what the man (who we might assume is our speaker's father) really knows about inside and outside, since his use of two languages didn't seem to spare him any suffering.
Then things shift gears. Our speaker, confused about the interaction between flesh and soul, body and heart, has a conversation with a woman about these things. Our speaker refers to the conversation (just as he did with the conversation between the man and the child) as an old story, and he gives the story three more titles, the last one of which is in a very different, less academic tone.