An Easy Passage

Julia Copus

A poem of one stanza and only five sentences, Copus stretches one tiny moment over 39 lines. It begins with the girl ‘crouched…/ on the porch roof’ and ends with her ‘dropping gracefully’; the whole poem explores that pause between preparation and jump. It is also an exploration of adolescence, the moment before the young girl leaps into her teenage, grown-up years. It is all about the ‘trembling’ before that vault into the unknown. 

The long, multi-clausal sentences which begin and end the poem also convey this stretching of the trembling moment. The first catches the girl, tellingly, ‘halfway’, poised on the roof, trying to focus on what she is doing. Danger is emphasised by the ‘narrow windowsill’ and the ‘sharp/drop’ beneath her, while the necessity of calm focus leads to the repetition of the need to ‘keep her mind’ on things apart from the precariousness of her position. Copus uses a whole line to describe the window stay which she needs to reach – it is ‘the flimsy, hole-punched, aluminium lever’, every epithet carrying suggestions of weakness. It is the lever to the window through which she wishes to pass, a symbolic gateway. 

The centre of the poem is the point of balance. There is the momentary equilibrium as ‘she/steadies herself’. The physical description of the girl, with ‘tiny breasts’, and the portrayal of her mind with the rhetorical question ‘What can she know/of the way of the world?’ emphasise her youth and innocence at the brink of adolescence. 

The poem concludes with another long 21 line sentence, zooming out to place the girl and her friend within the context of the world around them, including ‘workers’ in the ‘factory over the road’ and the bored ‘flush-faced secretary’ who observes the girl accidentally. It is through her eyes that Copus gives us the last moment of the girl on the brink, ‘standing’ and ‘shielding her eyes’ as if considering the future, with a final focus on the adornments which are her attempts at adult sophistication, the ‘silver anklet’ and ‘shimmering-/oyster-painted toenails’ before she ‘gracefully’ passes through the window, into the house and into her future. It is fitting that, in a poem which stretches out that moment, the first end-stopped line is the final one of the poem.