The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Depression Days” is a short poem in free verse, consisting of thirty-five lines divided into seven stanzas. The title suggests not only a mood but also a specific historical period, 1929-1939. The Depression evokes a time of hardship and suffering because of a shortage of provisions and work. The poem, dedicated to Eduardo Delgado, focuses on the challenges presented to the main character by economic misery and racial discrimination. Pat Mora refers to him in the third person and does not specifically identify him by name until the fifth stanza, when she calls him her “uncle.”

The historical context is important to an understanding of “Depression Days.” The poem emphasizes the economic impact of the Great Depression and the involvement of Mora’s uncle with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), mentioned in line 8. The CCC, one of the most popular relief agencies of the New Deal, provided outdoor employment for numerous young men from 1933 to 1942. Many of the jobs were in conservation, usually in the nation’s parks and forests. The enrollees lived in campsites set up in different states participating in the relief program. One of those work camps is the specific setting for the poem.

The poem begins by projecting the character into darkness as he spends “his last fifteen cents” to purchase a movie ticket. With the last coins in his pocket, he buys a ticket to forget the harsh realities of his personal life. Literally and figuratively, “He buys the dark.” He escapes the light and reality by hiding in the darkness of a theater. As the film begins, he joins its seafaring men on the deck of the ship as their voices sing out, “Red Sails in the Sunset,” a popular English song of the mid 1930’s. Once on...

(The entire section is 715 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Cinematic images structure “Depression Days.” Mora effectively contrasts the fantasy of films with the reality of Delgado’s life. They provide a means to escape and a chance to assume romanticized roles in several different films. The poem begins with the character watching “Reel after reel,” but the second stanza intrudes with a very personal projection of scenes that Delgado “tries not to think of.” The following five stanzas list experiences that he would prefer to forget but cannot. Those scenes are private, but they also apply to many others who found themselves in the same predicament during the Great Depression. The darkness of the theater functions as a framing device for the poem. Within the frame, Mora unravels a very disturbing experience.

The imagery of money and hunger in the poem is particularly relevant to the Great Depression. In both the first and last stanzas Delgado “buys the dark” with fifteen cents. References to “hungry for paychecks,” the offer of a job, “the bare icebox,” and “the price of eggs and names and skin” remind readers of Delgado’s hunger and desperate need for a job. The young men’s extreme hunger becomes more evident through their growling stomachs, “screechy as gears.” Their hunger is further emphasized by references to “bare flesh” and the question involving being alive. In the last line Mora juxtaposes “the price of eggs” with the price of the last two items, “names and skin”—the price to be paid for having a Mexican name or dark-complected skin.

Mora uses repetition as a technique to remind the readers of the reason Delgado seeks the darkness. The first two lines in stanza 1 are repeated in stanza 7: “He buys the dark/ with his last fifteen cents.” Enclosed within these two stanzas, the other five stanzas begin by repeating the refrain: “He tries not to think,” followed by those scenes Delgado wishes to forget. The repetition reinforces the fact that he does think about them.