Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our "How to Read a Poem" section for a glossary of terms.
There's a reason why we called this poem a mantra or even a manifesto – it outlines an entire philosophy of life. Like any good mantra, it repeats key phrases and formulations several times, which helps create a sense of stability and of increasing power. Every time the speaker begins a phrase with the words "these hips are," we begin to believe her just a little bit more!
Lines 1, 5, 11, 12: The repetition of a key phrase in this poem etches it into our memory – it'll be hard to forget exactly what "these hips are"!
Lines 9, 10: Once again, Clifton creates almost identical syntactic structures. This repetition reinforces our sense of the woman's independence.
The Female Body, Dissected
With all the magic and power that Clifton is able to elicit by describing a woman's hips, we're a little scared to think about the strength she could unleash if she were to take on an entire body! This poem operates through the repetition of a single poetic technique: synecdoche. A synecdoche is a form of figurative language in which a part (hips) stands in for a whole (woman). Check it out:
Lines 4-5: Sure, the speaker's hips may not fit in small chairs. More importantly, though, the speaker herself isn't willing to be trapped in a petty little understanding of who or what she is. She won't be contained by petty stereotypes.
Lines 9-10: It's a bit hard to imagine the hips moving around without taking the rest of the woman along with them! Once again, our speaker's hips stand in for the whole person.
Lines 14-15: Maybe it was just the sight of these magical hips which seduced a man, but we're betting that he was attracted to the whole package!