The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 634

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“The Truth Is,” a poem in free verse, comprises forty-seven lines arranged in six stanzas of unequal length. It depicts the speaker’s conflicting emotions about her dual heritage. The speaker, in this case, is the poet’s alter ego and reflects her own background: Linda Hogan’s father is a Chickasaw Indian, and her mother is a European immigrant from Nebraska. Hogan uses the first person and, later, addresses herself by name, both of which clearly indicate that the poet is speaking of her own predicament.

The first stanza brings out the conflict. Normally, the two hands of an individual work in harmony to accomplish tasks. In this case, however, her hands, symbols of her ancestry, refuse to cooperate. The left hand represents the Chickasaw part of her heritage and the right that of her white lineage. Their separateness is so distinctive that the speaker needs to reassure herself that both hands, hidden away in each pocket, are indeed hers. She describes herself as a woman who “falls in love too easily” yet “sleeps in a twin bed”—in other words, she maintains her single status. The emptiness of her pockets indicates the absence of material possessions. The fact that she walks with her hands in her pockets further suggests her reluctance to advertise her ancestry. She informs readers that if she ever puts her hands in someone else’s pocket, it is “for love not money.”

The speaker continues her meditation on her peculiar state in the second stanza. She would like to envision herself as a grafted tree bearing two distinct yet equally appreciated types of fruits—perhaps apricots and cherries. The unfortunate truth, she realizes, is that the grafting, in this case, has not been successful: She finds that both branches “knock against each other,” creating unwarranted tension. Yet, this constant warring is not what they desire; they “want amnesty.”

The tone changes from reflective to conversational in the next stanza. The speaker admonishes herself—“Linda, girl”—to stop fretting about history. After all, nothing would be gained by going over the record of wrongdoings (by the white ancestors) or of loving generosity (of the Native Americans). The sense of her disharmonious existence is further conveyed by her comparison of herself to an old Civilian Conservation Corps member from the days of the Depression. The phrase “taped together” evokes the image of an object barely held together: She sees herself in a similar predicament. Her empty pockets, devoid of “coins and keys,” the accoutrements of modern life, reinforce the absence of tangible wealth. She finds consolation in the fact that since wealth blinds the soul, hers remains unfettered by material bondage.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker recounts further the dangers of being “a woman of two countries.” Her hands remain sheltered in the dark, empty pockets; in other words, she remains ignorant of both heritages that they represent. While she pretends to act nonchalantly, she cannot escape the “enemy.” She desires to forget the gory history of the relationship between the white settlers and the Native Americans, to stop thinking of “who killed who.” However, it is difficult to forget it all when she is constantly reminded of “that knocking on the door/ in the middle of the night”—a reference to the thoughts about continuing acts of violence originating from mainstream society.

Resolution, for the speaker, comes not in achieving a state of amnesty between the warring elements of her being but in the acceptance of her struggle. As she shifts her attention from hands to feet and shoes, the dilemma continues, for the right foot is still white and the left is still Chickasaw. In other words, “the truth is” that she will have to learn to live with this ever-present tension as she journeys through life.

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 430

Lacking a formal structure, the poem is deftly held together by metaphors, similes, symbols, and imagery. Hogan’s use of hands to denote her heritage is a rather unusual metaphor, suggesting the emphasis on actions rather than thoughts. That these hands are hidden away in the pockets is a reminder of the unseen but powerful forces of heritage. Furthermore, the emptiness of the pockets reflects the speaker’s state of existence: Her heritage has not, as yet, brought her any material or spiritual riches. Phrases describing the woman, who “falls in love too easily,” who “sleeps in a twin bed,” and who “walks along with hands/ in her own empty pockets/ even though she has put them in others/ for love not money,” evoke the image of a vulnerable woman in search of peace and love.

The metaphor of a grafted fruit tree in stanza 2 is a powerful one. Normally, the process of grafting produces new varieties. If the grafting is successful, it is difficult to distinguish between different branches. In this case, however, this is not so. The grafting of the two cultures has not worked well; the speaker’s dream that the tree would bear two fruits, each distinctive in itself, has not been realized. The phrase “It’s not that way” tersely reveals the truth. The image of branches that “knock against each other at night” contrasts the reality with the speaker’s erstwhile dream of peaceful coexistence. “Who loved who” and “who killed who” allude to the history of relations between whites and Native Americans, which has been dominated by violence.

In the fourth stanza, the use of simile, imagery, metaphor, and symbolism further advances the idea of the failure of an emergent composite identity. The speaker compares herself with an old worker from the Depression era and evokes another powerful image of herself as a “taped together” relic of the past. The pockets are depicted as “masks/ for the soul,” serving as blinders that hide the soul. The coins and keys clearly symbolize material wealth and possessions. Their absence leaves the pockets free of jingling elements; their continued emptiness, however, suggests her failure to fill them with other riches.

The next two stanzas draw upon the earlier metaphors and allusions in reiterating the ever-continuing conflict. The pretense of not being concerned or afraid cannot go too far. The line “you better keep right on walking” clearly suggests moving on without being debilitated by the state of inertia. The poem thus succeeds in using these figures of speech effectively in establishing the mood of the speaker.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 276

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