Throughout this free verse poem, the poet directs their speaker’s words to “you.” While they do have a specific listener in mind, a mother who has recently lost her job in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the poet’s use of language makes it easy for the reader, no matter their background or history, to place themselves in this mother’s shoes.
Readers will likely walk away from this poem reminded of the various struggles that people from all walks of life endured during the height of the pandemic. But, more than anything, one should feel inspired by a feeling of hope and the desire to help others. The poet creates this mood through their focus on the pleasure that simple acts of kindness can bring.
Explore The Night After You Lose Your Job
‘The Night After You Lose Your Job’ by Debora Kuan is an effective, contemporary poem that explores themes of hope and connection.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by describing “your” reaction to losing your job. Like most people, losing “your” job means that you have to think about where you’re going to get your income from and how you’re going to support your family.
As the lines progress, it becomes clear that the speaker is directing her words to a mother. She is in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and has young children to care for. While considering her résumé, she wonders why it’s not possible to include what she feels are true accomplishments in her life. It is partway through the poem when the setting is revealed (sometime after March 2020), and the main character’s reason for worrying about the future is made clear.
When the poem concludes, the main character has found some hope and a great deal of happiness in being able to share what she has ( clothes her children have outgrown and diapers) with another mother in need.
You can read the full poem here.
Structure and Form
‘The Night After You Lose Your Job’ by Debora Kuan is a three-stanza poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines. The first stanza contains twenty-two lines, the second: ten, and the third: four. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet does not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. It is incredibly effective for conveying the poet’s intentions. It allows the language to remain informal and conversational throughout. This means that readers are more likely to relate to what the poet is conveying and the experiences that “you” are going through from the first to the last line of the poem.
Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Allusion: can be seen with the poet refers to something that is outside the scope of the information provided within the text. In this case, the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Caesura: occurs when the poet inserts a pause in the middle of a line. For example, “vapor of faith. An amply paid gig, perhaps.” A poet might choose to use examples of punctuation in the middle of their lines or a natural pause in the meter.
- Imagery: occurs when the poet uses particularly effective description. Fore example, the depiction of the child’s night terrors at the end of stanza one and the depiction of the “old man” in lines eleven, twelve, and thirteen of the first stanza.
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two of stanza one as well as lines four and five of that same stanza.
You know sleep will dart beyond your grasp. Its edges
crude and merciless. You will clutch at straws,
their names, or the diaper rash you lovingly cured
In the first part of the poem, the speaker begins by picking up where the title left off. Before starting the first line, it’s important to take into consideration what the poet is revealing through the title ‘The Night After You Lose Your Job.’
The speaker describes how one may suffer after they lose their job. They direct their lines to “you,” an example of the second-person perspective. The speakers describe what “you” feel and how “you” act. Because they chose to use this narrative perspective, the poem becomes universally relatable. Readers are asked to put themselves in “your” shoes and consider how they would react in a similar situation and how they may have felt in the past if they had known what it’s like to lose a job.
The speaker says that the night after you lose your job, “sleep will dart beyond your grasp.” One will go the night without a solid sleep because you now have a more serious concern to think about at night—where you’re going to make money and support yourself and perhaps those you love.
As if speaking from experience, the speaker describes how “you “will turn to the Internet and its peopled rooms to distract yourself from your new reality. This is something, as most contemporary readers will know, that can be both entertaining and destructive. The “people” on the Internet do not always provide visitors with a positive outlook on life. While online, the speaker says that “you” are going to be looking for any leads that could possibly result in you getting a new job.
Here, she uses the word “faith.” This word makes more sense as the poem progresses and the contemporary context, the COVID-19 pandemic, is revealed. “You” are seeking out hope that a job is going to be available to you as well as hope that the pandemic is not as bad or will not last as long as it seems.
The speaker adds, in a partially joking way, that it would be great if “you” found a job that rewarded the true qualities of “your” life. These include having an “earnest heart” and keeping the children you gave birth to alive.
Here, readers are informed of the fact that the speaker is addressing their words to a woman. Perhaps, the poet, Debora Kuan, is considering her own experiences.
with coconut oil, or the white lies you mustered
about the older man in the cream-colored
speaking the language of offices?
Continuing on, the poet speaker asks a few rhetorical questions about where to add those accomplishments to your résumé. Where should you write down curing diaper rash? Or, where do you include your children’s names? When “you” consider your accomplishments and the things that mean something, children come to mind.
The next lines of the first stanza include another example of the subject’s skills with her children–something that she feels she succeeded out. The speaker describes the “white lies” that you mustard when an older man hung his head out the window and shouted “Coronavirus!” With this piece of context, it becomes clear that the speaker is very likely discussing how “you” lost your job at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. This provides readers with more information about the setting and why “you” may feel as stressed as “you” do.
Information about the pandemic and its dangers varied to an enormous degree on the Internet (where the speaker has already said “you” sought out comfort). This is yet again another example of Kuan crafting relatable references and allusions to contemporary life that many readers should be able to relate to.
The next few lines of the poem explore one specific experience that the speaker suggests may end up happening again. They describe how “you” held your children through night terrors but still turned up to a meeting looking half lucid and professional. These are the true struggles that one faces in life, especially against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. It seems unfair, the speaker implies, that these strengths and accomplishments are not held in his high regard the simplest work experience.
Readers should also note Kuan’s great use of imagery in these lines. For example, the phrase “sweaty / grunting and writhing” that she uses to describe “your” child in the middle of the night, suffering a night terror. She goes on to say that the child seemed demon-like at that moment. These images help readers envision exactly what’s going on in a scene and, hopefully, relate to it on a deeper level.
At the end of the first stanza, the poet uses the phrase “the language of offices.” Here, she is referring to the way that professionals use specific work-related vocabulary, phrases, and words that are never used outside of the office in order to describe what they’re doing, the importance of the day, etc. It’s something that one has to make a concerted effort to do. By noting that “you” managed to speak the language of offices even after a terrible night, the speaker is trying to emphasize, once again, how much strength and determination “you” have.
At last, what catches your eye is posted large-
font and purple: a local mother in search
you have just won the lottery—
The second stanza is far shorter than the first, at only ten lines long. Finally, it seems, “you” are drawn in by a “local mother in search / of baby clothes for another mother / in need.” “You” are stirred by this plea for help from someone who is very much like “you.” This sets the main character of the poem into action, seeking out diapers, sleep sacks, clothes, and packing all the supplies into bags. These are set on the porch in order to be picked up, free from person-to-person contact (as per COVID-19 guidelines) tomorrow.
“You” were drawn out of your fear for the future by the clear and relatable needs of someone else. This is the “hope” that the poet was alluding to in the first lines (as the final stanza suggests again). It’s the desire to help and knowing that one has helped that makes you feel as though “you have just won the lottery.” Plus, helping this mother in need allows “you” to have some contact, albeit from a distance, with other people, breaking the isolation that the pandemic imposed on everyone.
and so you did, didn’t you?
and error, with something necessary to give.
The final stanza is a quatrain, meaning that it contains four lines. Here, the speaker replies to the feelings they described “you” as experiencing in the previous lines. It is truly as though “you” won the lottery, they say. The feeling of helping another person, giving something “necessary, “is what brings people together. The speaker implies that “you” won the lottery because you have made it through life successfully so far and are here at “this night,” having survived a “lifetime of luck / and error,” having something that someone else needs, and the willingness to give it. The poem ends on an incredibly hopeful and optimistic note. This speaker is suggesting that this way of looking at one’s life is going to bring one greater happiness than the continual search for more (in the form of experiences, money, friendships, time, etc.).
The main themes of this poem are hope and connection. By the end, it is clear that the speaker finds a great deal of value in helping others and forming connections, even if they are incredibly temporary, through mutual need and a willingness to share what one has. The main character, “you,” takes pleasure in knowing that she has been able to help another mother in need.
By the end of the poem, the tone is overwhelmingly hopeful. The poet, who may have used her life experiences to inspire the story, suggests that there is hope and happiness to be found in being needed by other people and being willing to give what you have to others. The connection in the midst of suffering and fear makes those moments of darkness far easier to endure.
The purpose is to describe a near-universal experience with the COVID-19 pandemic and its overwhelming related circumstances. The main character of the poem is a mother who is dealing with losing her job, having children to care for, and finding hope in everyday life. At least a few of these attributes are things that nearly every reader is going to be able to relate to.
The message of this poem is that human connection, and the ability to help those in need, is the most important thing in life. The poem ends with the speaker describing how “you” won the lottery because you have made it through life, passing through all of the errors and moments of luck, to arrive at a night when you are needed by someone else.
Readers who enjoyed it should also consider reading some related poetry. For example:
- ‘There’s No Power Like Home’ by Amanda Gorman – a beautiful testament to the difficulties associated with COVID-19 restrictions.
- ‘My Sister is Not a Statistic’ by Dorothy Duffy – a heart-wrenching poem about the author’s sister who died from COVID-19 on April 4, 2020.
- ‘Kindness’ by Naomi Shihab Nye – upholds the value of kindness in the modern world and how we can incorporate this attitude into our hearts.