Loud Screams, Silent Scars

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

Claribel Alegria and her poem “I Am Mirror” takes a direct look at the social injustice and human right violations happening in Central America.  This poem is very powerful considering Alegria’s background and history of living in El Salvador at a time when the country was plagued with corruption and inhumanity. “I Am Mirror” paradoxically uses an image of a mirror to illustrate the narrator reflection of the mere image of life while she feels numbness caused by the abundant violence.  Alegria’s poem is a profound and direct message about the injustice and violence that is ongoing in Central America.     

            The poem “I Am Mirror” uses the poetic device of imagery to showcase the violence and inner turmoil that war and poverty causes.  Alegria uses the image of a mirror to describe in detail the emotional suicide and despair that accompanies a person surrounded by murder and social injustice, and this is the exact setting of this poem and in much of Central America during Alegria’s time.  The mirror is an image, and also a metaphor, for living without truly being alive, only reflecting life.  In this poem, the narrator is a mirror, hence the title, because she lives without emotion or empathy to the people suffering around her, which is not really living at all.   Alegria uses the physical image of a mirror to describe not only the narrator’s outward image of her simple reflection of life, but her inward feeling of blunt belligerence: “I pinch myself again/ And already I feel nothing/ I simply reflect” (39-41).  Alegria cleverly uses the image of a mirror to refer to the narrator being merely a shell of a person while living in consistent violence.  Alegria also has images of war and poverty throughout the poem to further illustrate the seriousness of the injustice and violence.  The narrator gives the reader a very vivid image of the violence inflicted during daily life: “The streets are paved with pain/ Tanks that approach/ Bodies that fall/ Weeping” (24-28).  The images of tanks and guns allude to the extreme violence and total war happening within her world.  Images of poverty are also seen throughout this poem and Alegria uses phrases like “scurrying rats” (16) and “child prostitutes” (22)  to emphasize the outrageous degree of poverty that has engulfed the people; the poverty is so serve that this is a common site to the narrator.  Imagery is an important and one of the most used poetic devices in “I Am Mirror” since the images capture the violence and aggression within the narrator’s community and also her silence in the wake.

            The poem “I Am Mirror” contains many different uses of figurative language, poetic devices like paradox and ambiguity, to elucidate the narrator’s cold condition.  A paradox is when two contrary ideas are combined to reveal a truth, and this poem contains a paradox to show the narrator’s numbness.  The narrator gently admits “I am a blank mirror” (47) at the end of the poem, thus confirming that although she lives, she reflects no life and she is numb to the world.  This is a brilliant paradox because the function of a mirror is to reflect; so if the mirror is blank, it loses its main objective; however, this reveals a deep truth about the narrator: although she is alive, she does not reflect any life, she is blank.  Another astonishingly powerful figurative poetic device within this poem is ambiguity and this is used to describe the narrator’s pain, or lack of.  The narrator describes water having little effect on her: “Water sparkles/ On my skin/ and I don’t feel it” (1-3).  Alegria purposely makes these first lines ambiguous and they can be interpreted in two ways: first, that the narrator legitimately could not feel the water to add truth to her numbness, or a second meaning could be that the water, which historically is associated with cleansing and healing people of evil, washes away her guilt of the genocide taking place; water helps to take away her pain and in that moment she does not “feel it” (3), it being the pain of the inhumanity.  Alegria uses powerful and beautiful devices like paradox and ambiguity to help the reader to understand the true nature and condition the narrator is facing.

            The mood of the poem is noticeable dark and unsetting, almost sardonic, throughout the poem and this is crucial in understanding the true message behind the poem.  The mood of the bombarded narrator is best described as being in a stupor, “I don’t feel” (9), which alludes to her overall numbness to the situation.  Readers can almost imagine a monotone robot when picturing the emotionless narrator. Although her mood may be disturbingly causal, the mood of the poem is diffidently dark and foreboding.  The best way to describe the mood of the poem is helplessness, and this helplessness to violence and destruction is the overall theme of the poem. The narrator has learned to accept this helplessness as commonplace and she is no longer affected by the injustice: “Women with panic/ in their faces/ this time it hurts me less” (36-38).  This helpless mood creates an air of deep discomfort and sorrow because the injustice happening is so evident yet there is nothing being done to prevent it.  Alegria’s main mission in writing this poem is to create a mood of helplessness from the constant injustice the people of Central America face and make the readers have powerful emotional response of pity and justifiable angry.

            “I Am Mirror” is a very unique poem and the poem’s arrangement of words is distinctive in three specific ways: free verse form, the point of view, and the punctuation.  Alegria uses free verse throughout the entire poem. Although her words are poetic: “I am no longer a phantom/ I hurt/ therefore I exist” (30-32), Alegria never uses a specific rhyme scheme or any precise poetic pattern.  This free verse gives the poem a real feel rather than simple a poem; this form gives the poem a sense of purpose.  The point of view of this poem is first-person, where the narrator reflects her personal experience to the injustice that surrounds her life.  This again makes the poem so much more dramatic and realistic.  This poem has fifty-seven lines and it is important to note that this poem is only one sentence.  Alegria never breaks her poem down into segments or stanzas; rather, she made the whole poem a continuous dialogue and the poem never ceases or pauses to describe the horrors of life.  The horrors never stop in real life in Central America.  Alegria has a distinguishing style in “I Am Mirror” and uses many poetic devices such as free verse and point of view in order to increase both the reality and the outrageousness of her story.

            The central theme behind the poem “I Am Mirror” is the helplessness to poverty and war that, unfortunately, people in Central America have grown accustom to.  The narrator herself has learned this hopelessness and lives like a mirror, displaying the image of life without the emotion or humanity that makes a person alive.  The injustice within this poem is heartless and Claribel Alegria masterfully shows that living in the conditions of inhumanity will make a person inhuman.