Explication of the Poem “Nani” by Alberto Rios

In the poem “Nani” Alberto Rios describes his personal multicultural experience. To understand the poem one needs to understand the background of the author. Having been born in Nogales city, Arizona, which borders Mexico, he spoke English and Spanish during his early childhood age. He went to a school that discouraged the speaking of Spanish but encouraged the use of English. For this reason he lost interest in Spanish and slowly started forgetting it (Cheyene, 2011). The poem therefore depicts a moment when he visits his grandmother. She can only communicate in Spanish but not in English. This brings a situation where communication between grandmother and grandson is impaired. The two however find solution to their language barrier problem by use of culture, food as well as body language.

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The poem “Nani” is structured as a sestina. A Sestina is a type of poem that is made up of six stanzas. The poem, further, makes use of six specific words that the author chooses to use to end each of the sentences in the poem. The last stanza of this poem, however, has only three lines. The three lines end with one of the six specific words as well. This last stanza is referred to as the envoi.

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The specific six words that end each line are critical in the creation of meaning as well as flow in any sestina. In the poem Nani these words are “serves, words, me, more, her, and speak”. “Serve” has been used in with two different meanings. The first meaning is to function while the second meaning is the act of offering food. In the poem Nani, the grandmother serves the persona with “sopa de arroz” which represents her culture as well as her love and care for her grandson. Sopa de arroz is used to symbolize culture. The word “her” is used repeatedly in the poem to show a means of communication that the persona uses of observing his grandmother and letting her be. This is shown in statements like “I watch her”, “I tell her I test mint, and watch her speak smiles at the stove” (Alberto, 2011). The repeated use of “Words” emphasizes the fact that neither the persona nor his grandmother has the appropriate words to express their affections and feelings to each other. For instance he says “I own no words to stop her.” “More” on the other hand is intended to give specific examples on the modes of communication between the grandmother and the grandson. Thy mainly communicate through culture and food. The grandmother expresses her love to the grandson through giving him more and more food. This is the only way she can best express her love for her grandson. The grandson’s love for her grandmother does not allow him to stop her even though he confesses that he is full. Finally the author uses the repeat word “Speak” to bring out the extent to which the persona has lost contact with his ancestral culture as well as language. He is not able to communicate fluently in his ancestral language and hence very unsettled when in the company of his grandmother.

Going through the poem, one can’t help but notice two distinct tones: the tone of sadness as well as the tone of love. There is great love exhibited between the grandmother and the grandson. This affection, the grandmother expresses through serving the grandson with more and more food. The love for his grandmother prevents him from stopping her even though he is full. He says “I own no words to stop her” (Alberto, 2011). The tone of sadness is expressed by the fact that the persona has failed to communicate to communicate to her grandmother. He therefore has a feeling of sadness that comes from disappointment. Is a statement he says “I wonder how much of me will die with her what were the words I could have been, was. Her inside speaks through a hundred wrinkles, now, more than she can bear, steal around her shouting.”  (Alberto, 2011)This show that the persona is afraid that he may not have a long time with his grandmother to make up for the time he has not been able to communicate to her.

The line “how much of me will die with her” symbolizes not only more than just the sense of lose once his grandmother passes on but also the current loss of culture, language and a way of connection to his grandmother.   In conclusion, the running theme in the poem is the loss of cultural relatedness of the persona to her grandmother. The love of the grandmother to the grand son to the extent that she serves him to satisfaction before she can even serves herself. As I go through the poem, I can’t help but relate personally to the love exhibited by the persona’s grandmother having experienced a similar love from my own grandmother. I can therefore personally relate to the main idea running at the centre of this poem.

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