Precipice (from poetryfoundation.org)
Jill Alexander Essbaum
of a thing.
or a rim,
lip of land,
It isn’t hard to form a general impression of what this poem means, but there are a few details to begin sorting through. I mainly want to look at this poem because I think the style works. A few of you are writing in a somewhat similar style. You can use one word as an entire line of verse if you like. But notice what else has been accomplished: there’s a fairly tight narrative. The words, while few, bring our attention to the images and those images are ordered. Vowel and consonant sounds complement each other nicely, when they don’t match directly. And the poem’s elegance makes it something one wants to speak out loud. Onto the details:
The “border” becomes distinctly more feminine – perhaps tied to a particular notion of femininity – as the third sentence brings us a “perimeter’s trim.” I remember a father of a rather fundamentalist family telling his daughters (these were grown women, mind you) that they should not wear pants, not ever. Only skirts.
The fourth sentence links the “blow” of “daytime’s end” and “nighttime’s beginning” with that “border” as well as the fifth sentence’s “fence,” “rim,” “margin,” “fringe.” “Blow” indicates this border offends or hurts in some way. “Margin” and “fringe” imply that it begs to be crossed, or that the border is in decay.
Why is the doorstep “stingy?” Is this the doorstep of the house the speaker is from, or the one she wants to enter? If the latter, did she expect the rest of mankind to be so generous? Either way, that’s not really the important word. The key word is “lapse.” The speaker seems to be between doorways (“slim lip of land”). Despite hints of something sexual (“lip,” “verge”), it is the speaker’s non-movement that we’re drawn to. She indicates she’s been pushed (“slips you past your brink”). But it isn’t hard for us to argue that something might have slipped by her which causes the “blink.” “Where and when” seem to be only things that could occur outside a “perimeter’s trim,” and they’re causing our speaker to see differently.