‘Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border’ by Alootook Ipellie is a ten stanza poem that is separated into uneven sets of lines. These lines do not conform to a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. They are also a range of lengths, spanning from two words up to nine.
The poet makes use of a number of poetic techniques within ‘Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border’. Repetition is one of the most prominent. It occurs when phrases such as “Walking with an invisible border” or “Each and every day” are used and reused. There are few phrases like this which pop up multiple times.
Alliteration is another important technique. It occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. There are numerous examples within the text, but two include “history” and “humanity” in stanza three as well as “Potential personal paranoia” in stanza five.
Summary of Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border
In the first lines of this piece the speaker, who is very likely the poet himself, states that his life is never easy. He has to walk an invisible border, one foot on each side, every day. These two sides represent the way he was born, Inuk, and how he was forcibly raised in a Western education system. He knows that the way he is forced to live isn’t his fault, but that doesn’t make it easier. He feels as though destiny decided his life for him, and then left him to struggle through it and fend for himself.
In the last stanzas, the speaker compares the dance he does from one side of his mind to the other to a battle. He is frustrated with living this way and longs for the border to “Cease to be”.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border
It is never easy
Walking with an invisible border
Since I did not ask to come
Into this world
In the first stanza of ‘Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border’ the speaker begins by making a short statement that is directly related to the larger theme of the work. It also outlines the overall tone the speaker takes throughout the text. He is frustrated by his place in the world, and the way he has to balance between two different worlds. These two sides of himself are divided by a metaphorical “border”. It is invisible but present all the same.
The speaker goes on to say that he feels illegitimate as if he was brought into the world wrongly. This is something he addresses in the next lines. While he sometimes feels as though something is wrong with his existence, he did not ask to live. He has been “forsaken” by his parents and can “claim innocence”.
Walking on both sides of this
Sentenced to a torture chamber
Without having committed a crime
The border enters into the text again at the beginning of this stanza. The repetition of this element shows how important it is to the speaker. It is always present, “Each and every day”. Although the details are not clear, the pain the speaker feels is. His life is not something he wants to live, he would never have chosen it for himself. In fact, he says that it feels like he has been “Sentenced to a torture chamber”. This is made worse by the fact that he never “committed a crime”. The poet makes use of alliteration in these lines with “committed and “crime” as well as with “Each” and “every” in line three.
Stanzas Three and Four
Understanding the history of humanity
I am not the least surprised
But I lucked out on fate
Which I am unable to do
The details of the speaker’s situation are made even clearer in the third and fourth stanzas. He tells the listener that the way he is living is not unusual. He knows the “history of humanity” and the history of those like him. The speaker refers to himself as “A non-entity” in a world that has had a “population explosion”.
In the fourth stanza of ‘Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border’ the speaker states that he is “Inuk,” and was not asked to be born this way. With this piece of information mind, the other stanzas of the poem make more sense. The next lines provide even more details, outlining the way he was forced to grow up and adapt to Western culture. He was “forced / To learn an alien culture” as well as “an alien language”.
It is now clear that the two sides, divided by the border, he references in the first line are his Inuit heritage and his forced, Western upbringing.
I have resorted to fancy dancing
In order to survive each day
Potential personal paranoia
On both sides of this invisible border
The fifth stanza depicts the ways the speaker has tried to make a life for himself and cope with the two sides of himself. He describes how he has “resorted to fancy dancing / In order to survive each day”. It was not an option he would’ve picked if he’d really had a choice, and it has resulted in his “dubious” or unreliable, reputation of “being / The world’s premier choreographer”. Because of his heritage, he has been able to take on this role and at the same time avoid the “personal paranoia” he knows could take him over.
Sometimes this border becomes so wide
That I am unable to take another step
The premier choreographer
Saving the day once more
The sixth stanza of ‘Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border’ is also about dance. He connects it to the border he has felt all this life. The border shows itself, and he has to make a “new dance step” to keep from being torn apart. These movements, which relate to the twists of personality and social norms one goes through in contemporary life, are able to save him “once more”. He has become an expert at navigating the pitfalls of his bordered life.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
Destiny acted itself out
Deciding for me where I would come from
Which are unable to integrate
Lest they swallow one another whole
The speaker goes on to say that he sees destiny as something which chose his life for him. He didn’t get to decide where he “would come from” for what he would become. It has deposited him in his life and now he has to fend for himself. He is left to struggle between his two different worlds and find out what he believes in “two opposing cultures”. It is impossible to bring them together, as one would inevitably swallow the other.
Stanzas Nine and Ten
Each and every day
Is a fighting day
When will the invisible border
Cease to be
‘Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border’ concludes with one eight-line stanza and one two-line concluding couplet. The phrase “each and every day” is used again and the speaker emphasizes how every day is a struggle. He has to fight “A war of raw nerves” every day of his life. The battle he has been engaged in has resulted in some wins and some losses. Still, though, he looks to a time in which he isn’t going to fight “This senseless battle”. He longs for it to “Cease to be”.