Rodgers, a member of the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s, often writes about black women seeking their cultural identity. “It Is Deep” is about identity and appreciation for one’s roots, a sense of self deeply rooted in family history, loyalty, and circumstance. This is a theme that can be found in Rodgers’s companion poem, “Jesus Was Crucified or, It Must Be Deep,” which also mentions the persona of the “religious-negro,” her mother’s arduously long hours in the “white mans factori,” and her mother’s belief that her daughter is influenced by communists.
The mother in “Jesus Was Crucified,” like the mother of “It Is Deep,” is a woman who has lived a hard and disappointing life. She is a mother who has no time for causes other than survival and seeing to it that her child gets a better chance. This is a mother who holds tenaciously to her past for all that it was and was not, who, despite her own financial struggles, can find fifty dollars to give to her daughter, and who has invested all the struggles and tears of her past into a better future for her child. Though the mother fails to recognize that the daughter does, in fact, have a better future, the daughter does not fail to recognize that her “better chance” is derived from her mother’s life struggles.
The central symbol of that connection to the past is the “sturdy Black bridge” mentioned at the poem’s end. Despite the daughter’s caustic remarks about her mother’s religious delusions (“girdled in/ her god”) and her mother’s submission to oppression (“what she had/ been forced to deny”), the poet can still admire her mother’s pride in having “waded through a storm.” The mother shows a comparable contempt for her daughter’s lifestyle. She disapproves of her daughter’s racially biased politics, her rejection of religion, and her poor management of household and finances. However, none of these differences, including a disconnected telephone, could keep the mother from making the trip down “the stretch of thirty-three blocks,” standing in the daughter’s room “not loudly condemning that day,” and pushing into the daughter’s kitchen to check on the food supply. Remembering her mother’s tears, the daughter recalls her love and emphatically proclaims that her mother is “obviously/ a sturdy Black bridge that I/ crossed over, on.” The comma before the ending preposition emphasizes the daughter’s realization that her own passage was made only on her mother’s back.
Rodgers’s poetic narrative about the conflict between a mother and her adult child was especially timely at its initial publication. The 1960’s were a time of great generational conflict and misunderstanding. Rodgers’s eloquent use of imagery and language, however, evokes a timeless truth of reconciliation through love and respect for one’s roots.