This writing activity by Allison Finley is based on the poem “A Fraction of an Inch” by Abigail Rose Cargo, 13, published in Stone Soup, March/April 2017
Seeing Fractions of an Inch Everywhere
After reading the first two couplets of Abigail Cargo’s poem, “Fraction of an Inch,” I was nostalgic for the many days I have spent fishing with my brothers and exploring the bays in Lake Tahoe over school breaks. Abigail’s poetic description of the connection the water and boat share reminds me specifically of how those trips almost always ended: when leaving a lake or ocean, it was always a fight to return the boat to land. Since my friends and family only went out boating once in a while, there was always a comical and stressful chaos in remembering how to get our boat back on its trailer. While the more experienced people on both sides of us would trailer their boats away quickly and effortlessly, my fellow shipmates and I would clumsily fight the water to claim back what was ours. Once the boat would finally start to get onto the trailer, we would slowly crank it further out of the water, a fraction of an inch at a time.
At the beginning of the poem, Abigail does an amazing job depicting the back and forth that goes on between the truck and the water. The water’s “new prize”—the boat—must be skillfully put back onto the truck’s trailer. The water fights the truck back when “the waves bouncing off/ the boat’s hull” are a fraction of an inch from connecting with the rubber of the wheels. But this fraction of an inch is enough to cause the red truck’s wheels to spin ineffectively on the muddied concrete slab. Even though this poem is specifically from the point of view of the boat and the water, it reminds me of how this experience is always such a chaotic shift from a peaceful day we just had out on the water.
Ultimately, I’m drawn to the way Abigail’s style emphasizes the fact that even the smallest measurement can add up, and that you’re always only a fraction of an inch away from something changing at anytime. Instead of focusing on all of the action happening around her, Abigail beautifully focuses on the little details of the scenes: the “Waves of green foam/ rolled over the railing/ in a calm firmness” and “the rippling water/ pool[ed] at the edge of/ a concrete slab.” It’s these little details in the first scene that bring her to talk about life and death. I love the way that breaking down the scene in front of her in this way makes her think of such complex changes in life. After considering “how closely/ life and death are related,” Abigail introduces a completely new scene: two birds circling each other above their prey. While this scene is much darker to reflect the tonal shift, the image presented is just as familiar an image to me as the first one, and it is as effective in depicting how all it takes is a fraction of an inch in one direction or another to change everything—especially “a fraction of an inch/ to the left,” for the chickens below.
Abigail’s perspective throughout “A Fraction of an Inch” is mature. She personifies the water and the boat and then looks into the relationship between the two. To personify an object means to make something that is not a person like a person. In this poem, both the water and the boat “did not want” something. If you are inspired by the style of this piece, I encourage you to try personifying the objects around you to think about how they relate to their setting and to each other. What do they want or not want to happen? What do they see or experience? You might also try, like Abigail, to slow down a moment of chaos to focus on what each object is experiencing. Once you start slowing down, like Abigail, you’ll probably start seeing these fractions of an inch changes everywhere.
Author Bio: Allison majored in Literature at UCSC. She first got involved in the literary journal world through Matchbox Magazine, which features and distributes poetry, prose, and art across the University of California system. Allison has been involved with Matchbox during her entire time in college and she has filled the position of editor in chief for the past year. She loves the entire, magical process of making a journal—which is what made her want to get involved with Stone Soup. This spring, Allison graduated from UC Santa Cruz. She plans to pack up her two rabbits and her ridiculous amount of used books and move to LA.