The Undefended Border

Abby Paige

My husband wants to know why the line is always broken.
I say the poem is made of words, but the words are not
the poem. The words are the way in. The broken

lines are openings. I remember how his skin turned
gold under a streetlight the first time he took off his shirt,
and I saw his waist, small below the broadness of

his shoulders. I took hold of his shoulder blade, the narrow
rudder of a slender boat. Which is the poem? I ask,
his shoulder blade or the words: narrow, slender, boat.


I live beside the country of his body, the nation of his habits,
how he trims his fingernails in private, purses lips, and worries
the sleeves of shirts. My foreign tongue exasperates,

its appetites, outbursts, erotic requirements. In this body
am I immigrant or citizen? In this balkanized era, perhaps
the only optimistic gesture is an oath to stay together. We,

a federation of states, two countries, a single continent, we
invent democratic culture. That’s what intimacy is. We
reasonably accommodate. Tenderly we draft our constitution.


The map is a story we read on the road. We take turns
driving, navigating. Between our countries, a line drawn
by compromise, its location a cartographic error

since the surveyor spent his expedition’s funds on rum.
One team departed from the East, the other from the West,
and they never met.

One day I crossed three times to see him, crossing
over, crossing back, in love with the ease of it, incursion
and retreat. No map, not lost, in love with the ease of it.


Predators are deployed to secure the border, the same
drones that launch Hellfires over Afghanistan. It is insecure,
the border. We like its indefensible length, its lack of

definition, but we know it’s natural, the instinct to patrol,
as if by stalking the clear-cut between two forests they could
keep roots from mingling. We know from being woken by

each other’s nightmares side by side in a single bed
that two territories create a border by incursion. Periodically,
we change sides. The border sleeps between us.


There is a theatre that the border runs through.
The audience watches a play performed in Stanstead
from their seats in Derby Line. When it was built, they say,

the border’s exact location was unknown, as though
it had been made and hidden, or was given but needed
to be found. Where does the play reside?

Is the actor immigrant or citizen? Can a building be
a line break? An unmapped territory? What country
resides there in the dark behind the footlights?


We share a bed, not a country. In the dark, I don’t know where
my loyalty lies. Which side of the bed, the border? With
the territory or the map? Each pleated by repeated folds and

flattenings. On the dresser one ring nests inside the other, a ripple
of promises. But the ring is not the promise. Not even the words
are the promise. The promise is a frontier, a wilderness

between. We promise each other the boundary and its
breaking. We look for a line that can’t be crossed. We promise
to be indefensible in marriage. Traitors. Patriots.

Abby Paige is a writer, performer, and native Vermonter currently residing in Ottawa, Ontario. Her poems and book reviews have appeared in Canada and the U.S., most recently inOttawater, Arc, and The WRUV Reader: A Vermont writers’ Anthology. Her chapbook, Other Brief Discourses, was published earlier this year by Ottawa’s above/ground press.

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