Can I have a detailed analysis on the poem "The Border Builder" by Carol Rumens?

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Carol Rumens's poem "The Border Builder" is a somewhat disturbing poem that engages with the current debate on border walls and immigration policies. The poem basically describes the interaction between a border agent (or perhaps the wall itself) and someone trying to cross the border. The poem seems to suggest...

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Carol Rumens's poem "The Border Builder" is a somewhat disturbing poem that engages with the current debate on border walls and immigration policies. The poem basically describes the interaction between a border agent (or perhaps the wall itself) and someone trying to cross the border. The poem seems to suggest that borders encourage violence and strife.

The poem begins with the following lines:

No sooner had one come down

Than he began building again.

My bricks, O my genuine bricks

Made of my genuine blood!

What would we be without borders? (1-5)

The poem begins with the vigilance of maintaining the wall. If a wall falls or is damaged, it must be immediately replaced or repaired. The wall seems to be personified in lines 3 and 4. The rhetorical question in line 5 implies that borders are needed, but if we take a moment to think about the question, we might wonder if things could be better without them. This reminds me of Robert Frost's poem "Mending Wall," in which he questions the repeated remark of his neighbor that "Good fences make good neighbors."

As Rumens's poem continues, the speaker asks,

So which one are you? he said
And stuck out his hand to me.
Birth certificate? Passport?
Which side are you on, which side? (6-9)

The wall or the agent demands identification. The person trying to cross the border must choose a side. This makes it seem like there is a war or conflict, and the person must pick a "team." The person seems only able to choose one side and cannot exist across or between them.

The poem continues,

Merrily he unrolled
Starry dendrons of wire
To give his wall ears and eyes.
Qualifications? he said.
Residence permit? Tattoo?
Which colour are you, which colour?
No colour, he said, no good. (10-16)

The agent/wall acts "merrily," and the dangerous wire of the wall is described as "starry." These seem like ironic word choices given the context. The agent wants to personify "his wall" by giving it "ears and eyes." This gives human qualities to the wall, but it also makes it seem like the wall's job is surveillance, which then implies that it is trying to catch people doing something wrong or illegal.

Next, the speaker concludes the poem with the following exchange:


He took my only passport,
He slammed it down on the wire.
My hand, O my genuine hand!
This is a border, he said.
A border likes blood. Which side’s
Your bloody hand on, which side? (17-22)

The agent/wall seems particularly demanding here, and the speaker feels he/she has lost something, embodied in "my only passport," through this interaction. The phrase "my genuine hand" echoes the earlier phrase "my genuine bricks," but this time the object in question is a human body part. The poem's most obvious message becomes clear at the end: "a border likes blood," the agent/wall says to the speaker. Separating lands in this way, separating people in this way, breeds violence and conflict. The question "Which side" is repeated, as the speaker is pressured to choose one or the other. This suggests, as well, that the speaker will lose either way, since only one side of the border can be chosen. The land that is left behind should be forgotten; he/she will have to join a new team, or side, when crossing this border.

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“The Border Builder” by Carol Rumens makes a powerful statement about the problem many countries have with immigration. Especially in the climate of the U.S. where border management has become a central issue among potential presidential candidates, Rumens' poem really resonates.

In this poem, she depicts a scene of someone building a border and someone questioning the validity of another person. In the third and fourth line, the speaker says that the bricks are made of his blood. This suggests that not only is the physical labor very intensive and requires blood and sweat in a metaphorical way, but it also may cost the speaker his “blood” meaning part of his ethnicity. He is, in a way, rejecting his ethnicity to build a wall that may keep out some of his distant family members. The question, “What would we be without borders?” is a rhetorical one that is meant to convey both sarcasm and reality. The speaker suggests that sometimes borders are necessary but at the same time are exclusionary and problematic.

The other questions that follow are of someone questioning another person's birth place, passport, qualifications, and color. Clearly the person working on the wall looks as though he might be of a minority ethnicity, so the person questioning him is suspicious about whether he has a right to be there. Furthermore, the questioner is aggressive towards him because of his appearance. When the questioner slams the man's hand and says a border likes blood, he show his hate and prejudice for minorities, even legal, hard working people like the speaker. This shows that racism is prevalent and it is a difficult road for minorities in the face of such aggression.

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