In spite of its title and all its natural imagery, “Beneath the Shadow of the Freeway” is really a celebration of the power of women and a guide to dealing with men. In language that lifts her thoughts to a mythic level, Lorna Dee Cervantes has created a powerful statement of Latina strength—and a reminder about those who so often take it away.
The poem is broken into six numbered parts; all except the first contain verse stanzas themselves. The whole poem is thus made up of six shorter poems. Section 1 is a kind of preface to the entire poem and introduces several of its characters and some of its natural imagery. The freeway across the street from her house, the narrator of the poem declares, is a “blind worm,” “unwinding” and “wrapping the valley up.” (According to the geography of the poem, the freeway is probably U.S. Route 280, running up the peninsula from San Jose to San Francisco. Cervantes wrote another, shorter poem in 1977 with a similar setting titled “Freeway 280.”) Every evening her grandmother waters geraniums as “the shadow of the freeway lengthened.” These concluding lines of this section not only pit a natural act (tending flowers) against a human-made structure (the freeway) but also present a premonition (in the freeway’s lengthening shadow) of some looming danger or disaster.
In the first line of section 2, the narrator declares one of her main themes—“We were a woman family”—and then describes the three generations of women who live in this house in a royal metaphor, of the grandmother as “Queen” and the mother as “Knight” or “Warrior” (who really wanted to be...
(The entire section is 678 words.)