Obama wrote "Pop" when he was 19. To my mind the most potent line in the poem is one of the shortest: "Fail to pass." The multiple extra meanings of pass (a football play, a satisfactory grade, a highway maneuver, et al) and the particular resonance of the word in African-American history (i.e., “to pass” as white) make it worth pondering. The young poet’s ability to create a drama and build to a climax is impressive, and the line-breaks (“broken / in”) are not, as charged by Ian McMillin in The Guardian, gratuitous. While the poem's earnest emotional intensity is its most salient feature, the appearance of "easy" and "hard" in alternate lines (eight and nine)
and the internal rhyme of “stare” and “unaware” (lines nine and eleven)
suggests a degree of literary sophistication. Finally, consider the simile Obama uses to describe the shrinking of his grandfather in size and significance until he resembles nothing more than "A spot in my brain, something / That may be squeezed out, like a /Watermelon seed between / Two fingers."