Here a grown up child probably about to go and live in his/ her own house is, with the help of their mother, measuring up for curtains and carpets. Using the metaphor of the tape measure the young adult describes the stretching of the tape as being like the stretching to breaking point of the ‘umbilical cord,’ the invisible bonds that are still holding parent and child together.
She is showing her love for the child in a practical way and he/ she while accepting that help is feeling guilty at the selflessness of the mother’s love when the child is going to hurt them by moving away and becoming independent. Yet they need each other.
Form and structure
Although this is actually 15 lines it is deliberately almost a sonnet, a love poem, but by breaking with the recognised form of 14 lines broken 8 and 6 we are shown that the love between them is stretched to breaking point. Though Simon Armitage does still adhere to the final rhyming couplet to emphasise that love.
The rhyme also starts, ‘span / hands…‘ and ‘doors / floors…‘ stops: ‘recording / leaving / Kite…‘ and starts again: ‘pinch / inch…‘ in an unruly fashion a bit like our love for our parents while we are growing up and grow away from our parents as we learn to be independent then later learn to appreciate them again.
Love and distance. The distance between them grows as the measuring job goes on as they measure first small distances: ‘windows, pelmets, doors…‘ then much larger ones: ‘acres, prairies…‘ metaphorically symbolising the distance that has grown between them as the child has grown up to be an adult. Yet all the time she is still there at the ‘zero-end…‘ forming a fixed reference point, an ‘anchor…‘ in the character’s life while he unreels the tape between them, at the same time: ‘unreeling the years…‘. The metaphor of the tape measure changes slightly as it becomes an anchor line or a kite line their similarity being that they both allow the things tied to them to run free and yet they are still tied to reality, safe and grounded. He describes himself as: ‘leaving / up the stairs…‘ and interesting choice of words but he knows she will still be there when he chooses to return, loving selflessly; from a distance. Yet we are shown that this is a painful process because: ‘something has to give…‘ as he debates whether to: ‘fall or fly.’ As if she has been keeping him prisoner and he’s seen a chance of freedom.
The house is also a significant metaphor; in a way it is both the house he grew up in yet the bedrooms are: ‘empty…‘ and the new house with all its unrealised potential. The metaphor is extended through the use of descriptions of parts of the house, the ‘windows, pelmets, doors…‘ followed by: ‘the walls… the doors…‘ then: ‘the stairs… the empty bedrooms… the loft…‘ Significantly the: ‘endless sky…‘ seems to be the next stop if he can keep his nerve to break away: ‘to fall or fly‘ is his dilemma.