Themes and Meanings

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The pervasive theme in “I’m Here” is one of annihilation, although the title suggests, as does the last stanza, that the speaker is not fully gone. The poem does not offer hope of the kinds of afterlife that many of the world’s religions promise. Rather, the speaker, quickly losing his physical attributes, seeks only to connect with an anonymous “you,” who is addressed in the last two stanzas.

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Early in the poem, the speaker communicates in a single voice but uses the first-person plural, the royal “we,” rather than the first-person singular in referring to itself. Not until the third stanza is the pronoun “I” employed, and it recurs in the final stanza. Although the speaker addresses the “you” in the poem, in the lines “I hunger for a voice to fill/ an emptiness in my speech,” the pronoun “your” is not used before “voice,” indicating that the speaker wants his own voice back. The speaker, once he loses his corporeal being, is invisible but, much worse in some ways, is also without a voice, without the power to communicate.

The very fact that the being that has lost its body in the violent event that generates the poem suggests annihilation, but this suggestion is subverted by the fact that the incorporeal stranger is still communicating, often, quite ironically, about his own inability to communicate. Although the speaker is invisible, he is present creating the poem and posing questions about what happens when one dies. The lines that begin the third stanza, “How then can we still speak to you/ without body or voice?,” are followed by another question and suggest that the world of the dead “penetrates this one you’re in.”

Certainly the speaker, now dead, continues to be concerned about the “you,” which can be read as singular or plural, although Ignatow seems to imply that the “you” is a mother figure, one concerned with family, one who is “comforting them with food,” as mothers tend to do. This is the poem’s sole hint of gender. From it, however, readers cannot categorically presume that a mother figure is being portrayed. The hint is tormentingly subtle.

The author moves beyond the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” theology of conventional Christianity to a theology that reminds one of Robert Frost’s question about whether the world ends in fire or in ice. In “I’m Here,” the world ends in flames and wind. Those who try to outrun the devastation lose their corporeal forms, becoming part of the very elements that consume them, “vanishing in flame and wind,” and lead to their vanishing. The fact that there remains a speaker, however, combined with the poem’s title, offers hope, however slight, that humankind will endure.

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