The poem is written as a second-person narrative. This technique involves the reader directly by describing the experience as one in which the reader is involved. The reader becomes, in the context of the poem, the protagonist . The implication is, therefore, that the speaker and the reader experience the...
The poem is written as a second-person narrative. This technique involves the reader directly by describing the experience as one in which the reader is involved. The reader becomes, in the context of the poem, the protagonist. The implication is, therefore, that the speaker and the reader experience the situation in the same way. Such direct involvement accentuates the narrator's encounter because the reader is placed in his or her position.
The language in the poem is simple and direct. The purpose is obviously to make the experience more relatable and understandable. The repetition of a common expression like "the times we live in" denotes familiarity. The saying is commonly used by people when they gripe about a particular situation or event. In this poem, the speaker is essentially complaining about the unpleasant encounter an immigrant or visitor to a foreign country has when confronted by an immigration official at an airport.
The elementary task of presenting a passport becomes an unnecessarily troublesome and disconcerting act. The language makes it clear that the encounter is cold, clinical, and impersonal. The use of "He" at the end of line 1 accentuates the detached nature of the meeting and also indicates its universal nature. The "He" can be any officer anywhere in the world. The phrase "reading you" suggests both a literal reading of the particulars contained in the passport and the assessment made of you by the official. The fact that it is done "from the last page" further implies that the process is reversed. One can infer that the speaker would find it more acceptable if the entire procedure were done differently. This may suggest that a more personal and involved approach would be appreciated. The speaker states, however, that the whole nature of the exercise should not be seen as offensive, since this is the way things are done nowadays. It has become the norm.
The language throughout the poem furthermore suggests that the speaker is so intimidated by the official that he or she feels insignificant and small. In addition, the speaker feels displaced and transformed, as if the new circumstances have irrevocably changed his or her identity. It is also evident that the speaker senses the official's mistrust. The speaker finds this reaction humorous, because he or she has changed during the journey. The change was perhaps done to fit in with the expectations of the country being visited or emigrated to. The implication is that the narrator has adjusted so much from his or her original appearance that the photograph in the passport does not reflect his or her true identity at all—a fact which surprises the officer.
The speaker states that although the picture reflects his or her every physical attribute, its most essential ingredient is absent. The speaker suggests that the photograph is sterile and impersonal. The image does not reflect the individual's entire character and excludes an expression of his or her feelings.
The poem is written in free verse and does not display any particular set format. The stanzas are of different lengths. This freedom and irregularity accentuate the nature of this encounter. On the one hand, the speaker wishes to be free of such scrutiny and biased judgment and, on the other, he or she desires the freedom to retain his or her identity.
The tone in the poem ranges from acceptance
in the end, you decide
it makes as much sense
as anything else,
given the times we live in.
to cynicism and insecurity
You shrink to the size
of the book in his hand.
to irony and sarcasm
That’s when you really have to laugh.
The overall tone suggests displeasure and unhappiness, because the speaker is clearly not pleased with his or her situation.
The poem includes a few metaphors, such as "You shrink to the size of the book in his hand," which indicates the depth of the speaker's feelings of insignificance. The narrator feels unimportant and small, and the comparison accentuates the depth of the speaker's sentiment. In "the birthmark shifted," the birthmark (which should be a permanent fixture), is compared to a traveler who moves from one location to another. The metaphor highlights the difficulty the speaker experiences when displaced and forced to adopt, as it were, a new identity. It is an impossible task that has to be done somehow.
The passport becomes a symbol of the speaker's unimportance, because it is through its presentation that the official sees the speaker as inconsequential. Furthermore, it is a representation to the official of who the speaker is. It denotes his or her character and identity but is a faulty and incomplete depiction of who or what the narrator really is. Another symbol is the letter Z. In the poem, "Z" signifies the speaker's foreign status and his or her displacement, for "it has just moved house."
The poem's themes explore the loss of identity one encounters as a foreigner in another country, as well as the feelings of alienation and displacement one undergoes when moving from one's home country to another country. Moreover, the poem depicts the prejudice and discomfort a foreigner is exposed to on entering a foreign nation.