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Gary Soto

The first time I walked
With a girl, I was twelve,
Cold, and weighted down
With two oranges in my jacket.
December. Frost cracking
Beneath my steps, my breath
Before me, then gone,
As I walked toward
Her house, the one whose
Porch light burned yellow
Night and day, in any weather.
A dog barked at me, until
She came out pulling
At her gloves, face bright
With rouge. I smiled,
Touched her shoulder, and led
Her down the street, across
A used car lot and a line
Of newly planted trees,
Until we were breathing
Before a drugstore. We
Entered, the tiny bell
Bringing a saleslady
Down a narrow aisle of goods.
I turned to the candies
Tiered like bleachers,
And asked what she wanted -
Light in her eyes, a smile
Starting at the corners
Of her mouth. I fingered
A nickle in my pocket,
And when she lifted a chocolate
That cost a dime,
I didn't say anything.
I took the nickle from
My pocket, then an orange,
And set them quietly on
The counter. When I looked up,
The lady's eyes met mine,
And held them, knowing
Very well what it was all

A few cars hissing past,
Fog hanging like old
Coats between the trees.
I took my girl's hand
In mine for two blocks,
Then released it to let
Her unwrap the chocolate.
I peeled my orange
That was so bright against
The gray of December
That, from some distance,
Someone might have thought
I was making a fire in my hands.



I Was a Skinny Tomboy Kid

By Alma Luz Villanueva


I was a skinny tomboy kid

who walked down the streets

with my fists clenched into

                        tight balls.

I knew all the roofs

And back yard fences,

            I liked traveling that way


                   not touching

                         the sidewalks

                      for blocks and blocks

                                    it made

                                          me feel




over the streets.

I liked to fly

        from roof

               to roof

                  the gravel



beneath my feet,

                   I liked

                                               the edge

                     of almost

not making it.


            And the freedom

                        of riding

                 my bike

                          to the ocean

and smelling it

                long before

I could see it,

            and I traveled disguised

                        as a boy

                   (I thought)

                      in an old army jacket

                          carrying my

                                    fishing tackle

                             to the piers, and

                                bumming bait

                     and a couple of cokes




and catching crabs

                           sometimes and

                selling them

to some Chinese guys

            and I’d give

                    the fish away,

I didn’t like fish

       I just liked to fish—

            and I vowed

                     to never

                             grow up

                to be a woman

      and be helpless

              like my mother,

but then I didn’t realize

         the kind of guts

            it often took

              for her to just keep


where she was.


I grew like a thin, stubborn weed

watering myself whatever way I could

believing in my own myth

            transforming my reality

                        and creating a


every once in a while

            late at night

                  in the deep

       darkness of my sleep

              I wake

                    with a tenseness

in my arms

       and I follow

            it from my elbow to

                  my wrist

and realize

       my fists are tightly clenched

and the streets come grinning

            and I forget who I’m protecting

and I coil up

          in a self-mothering fashion

            and tell myself

it’s o.k.


“I Was a Skinny Tomboy Kid,” Alma Luz Villanueva                            Analyzing Literature


  1. Describe the speaker’s childhood appearance and activities.  How did her looks and actions give her pleasure?


  1. What were the speaker’s childhood thoughts about her mother?  How and why might they have changed?


  1. The speaker mentions “believing in my own myth,” “transforming my reality,” and “creating a legendary self.”  In your opinion, what might she mean by each of these phrases?


  1. What line marks the shift from past to present?  How has the speaker’s childhood affected her later life?  What does she tell herself, and why?


  1. Does the speaker’s childhood behavior seem familiar to you, or does it seem unusual?  Explain your answer.


  1. The speaker says, “I grew like a thin, stubborn weed / watering myself whatever way I could.”  Explain the simile: how is her growth like that of a thin, stubborn weed?  How did she nourish herself?  Given the poem’s setting, do you thin this simile is effective?  Explain.


  1. Why might the speaker have felt the need to disguise herself when she went fishing?  Do you think girls would need this disguise today?  Explain.


  1. In your opinion, does the speaker refer to herself as “a skinny tomboy kid” with pride, or does she do so with a sense of guilt or shame?  Explain.


Writing Assignment

Write at least two fully developed paragraphs comparing and contrasting the poem “I Was a Skinny Tomboy Kid” by Alma Luz Villanueva and the short story “My Name” by Sandra Cisneros.  Consider the following questions: (1) How are the narrators similar?  (2) How are they different? (3) How do the female narrators feel about their position in society? (4) How do the narrators feels about this family member’s positions in society? (5) Both authors are Mexican-American women.  How do you think this common culture may have influenced these two writers?







Aim     How can we identify and analyze the speaker and the tone in a piece of poetry?


Writing Prompt

Write about your clothing style.  How important are clothes to you?  Think about what you wore on the first day of high school?  Why did you choose to wear that outfit?  Were the clothes new or old?  What did you want your clothing to suggest about who you are as a person?  Was it difficult to choose an outfit?



By Naomi Long Madgett


I like the smell of new clothes,

The novel aroma of challenge.

This dress has no past

Linked with regretful memories

To taint it,

Only a future as hopeful

As my own.

I can say of an old garment

Laid away in a trunk:

“This lace I wore on that day when….”

But I prefer the new scent

Of a garment unworn,

Untainted like the new self

That I become

When I first wear it.


[1] Novel means new
[2] To taint something is to spoil or contaminate it

Focus Questions for “Purchase”

  1. Why does the speaker like new clothes?  Explain what they mean to her.
  2. What might the speaker mean by “the novel aroma of challenge”?
  3. What effect does an old garment have on the speaker?  Explain.
  4. Would you say the speaker prefers to think about the past or anticipate the future?  What details from the poem support your answer.
  5. The speaker emphasizes the “smell,” “aroma,” and “scent” of new clothes.  What does this appeal to the sense of smell add to your experience of the poem?
  6. Do you think a regretful memory can spoil a moment in the present?  Explain.
  7. How do you feel when you first put on new clothes?  Why do you think new clothes have this effect on you?



Speaker and Tone

Just as all prose works have a narrator, all poems have a speaker, or voice, that talks to the reader.  The speaker is not necessarily the poet.  It can also be a fictional or real person, an animal, or even a thing.  The speaker’s words communicate a particular tone or attitude toward the subject of the poem.  For example, the speaker in “I Was a Skinny Tomboy Kid” is a woman whose tone is one of self-acceptance.


Directions:  Use both poems, “I Was a Skinny Tomboy Kid” and “Purchase” to answer the following questions.

  1. What words and details tell you that the speakers of both poems are women?
  2. Identify several words or phrases in “I Was a Skinny Tomboy Kid” that reveal a tone of self-acceptance.
  3. What words and phrases in “Purchase” suggest that the speaker has a positive attitude?


Do Now:  Do you consider yourself an animal lover, or are you indifferent to animals?  Write about your thoughts concerning animals, and your reactions to them.  Consider whether you feel about wild animals as you do about domestic ones.  For example, do you react to reptiles and rodents in the same way that you react to cats and dogs?


The Black Snake

By Mary Oliver


When the black snake

flashed onto the morning road,

and the truck could not swerve—

death, that is how it happens.


Now he lies looped and useless

as an old bicycle tire.

I stop the car

And carry him into the bushes.


He is as cool and gleaming

as a braided whip, he is as beautiful and quiet

as a dead brother.

I leave him under the leaves


and drive on, thinking

about death: its suddenness,

its terrible weight,

its certain coming. Yet under


reason burns a brighter fire, which the bones

have always preferred.

It is the story of endless good fortune.

It says to oblivion: not me!


It is the light at the center of every cell.

It is what sent the snake coiling and flowing forward

happily all spring through the green leaves before

he came to the road.


Focus Questions

  1. At the start of the poem, where is the snake and what has happened to it?  How does the speaker react to it?
  2. To what things does the speaker compare the snake?  What do these comparison suggest about the speaker’s view of the snake?
  3. What does the snake’s fate make the speaker think about?
  4. What might the speaker mean when she says, “Yet under / reason burns a brighter fire, which the bones / have always preferred”?
  5. What do you suppose is “the light at the center of every cell”?  Explain.
  6. On the whole, would you call this poem cheerful or depressing, serious or playful?  Explain, using details from the poem to support your answer.
  7. If you have discovered the snake, how would your reactions compare with the speaker’s?  Which, if any, of your usual attitudes about snakes changed as you read the poem?  Explain.



By Tawnysha Lynch

Here I stand in the midst of Auschwitz
My mind racing with memories.
Silent people walk
Where living skeletons worked.

There is a silence,
But I hear the cries of my people.
A slight breeze passes,
But I feel the beating of a whip.

My hands sift through what seems like ashes
And I glimpse a sea of bodies aflame.
There is an open field,
But I see innocent people beaten.

A lone building stands in the distance,
But I see a place of death.
A place where terrible things took place
Horrors not even known to man.

With wistful eyes, I observe this place
Seeing things of the past
This place being as I left it
With an echo of remembrance.


Focus Questions

  1. What does the speaker remember about Auschwitz?
  2. How is Auschwitz different now than in the speaker’s memory?
  3. What is the mood in the poem?
  4. How are lines of imagery used to convey the mood? Cite a specific line and explain how it helps establish the poem’s mood.
  5. What do you think is meant by the last line of the poem, “With an echo of remembrance”?

Responding to Literature Mini Essay

Your Task: Write a unified essay about the power of memory, as revealed by the poem “Remembrance.” In your essay, use ideas from the poem to establish a controlling idea about the power of memory . Using evidence [quotations from the poem], develop your controlling idea and show how the poem uses specific literary elements or techniques [tone, mood, simile, theme, imagery, structure, etc.] to convey that idea.

Mini Essay Suggested Outline:

  • Introduction Paragraph
    • Explain the controlling idea
    • Introduce the title and author of the poem
  • Body Paragraph #1
    • Link the poem to the controlling idea
    • Do not summarize the poem but specifically refer to commonalities between the poem (perhaps its theme) and the controlling idea
    • Discuss your first literary element pulled from the poem
    • Quote from the poem to support both the controlling idea and to demonstrate how the author used the literary element
  • Body Paragraph #2
    • Continue connecting the poem and the controlling idea
    • Discuss another literary element pulled from the poem
    • Quote from the poem to support both the controlling idea and to demonstrate how the author used the literary element
  • Conclusion
    • Summarize the main points of your essay
    • Reestablish the link between the controlling idea and the poem

Auschwitz was the largest of the Nazi concentration camps during World War II. It is estimated that more than 1 million people were killed at Auschwitz; 90% of them were Jews. Auschwitz was an operating camp from May 1940 until January 1945.

The Holocaust, which refers to the mass genocide of the European Jews by German Nazis under Adolf Hitler’s leadership in World War II, means death by burning. Millions of people were killed in gas chambers and crematoriums, where bodies were burned. The crematoriums in Auschwitz seemingly never stopped and ashes from the giant smoke stacks continuously fell on the surrounding land. The ashes were the remains of the victims.

Wistful means characterized by melancholy (sadness); pensive (thoughtful); and yearning.

Mood is the feeling or atmosphere evoked in a literary work.

Imagery is the use of one or more of the five senses (taste, touch, sound, smell, or sight) to describe something.