A Poem by Katy Lederer

by Mark Bibbins, Editor

Fetus Papyraceus

Sometimes, in the middle
of the night, our children will
insist that we tell them a story.
In the story, after heavy
rhyme and insistent inculcation
of our cultural mores,
our children will look down
at our apparent missing limbs,
which remind them
that they should not touch,
and, if they do decide to touch,
that absence can feel presence.
It can be difficult, this lesson,
and the children are defenseless
as we read to them this book.
They like to flap their hands
and look: at animals that long ago
died out. They roar and raise
their trunks. They lurk, alertly,
in their dens. We wonder
what has happened to their spirits

and discover, as an exercise,
such thinking is instructive.
Where is the presence
and the absence in this book?
The world is full of lulls
and shocks. To describe them all

would take a million lives.
What would it mean
to use up our one life like this?
And so we peel the pages back.
It is a treasure, this book.

It is a treasure beyond
the other treasures in the world
because the book is like
nothing. It is blank
with little colors, there.
Made from deciduous forest
and the end of time. We had once
walked along the boardwalks
very bored, in heavy weather,
under moonlit stars.
We had once held
our children in our arms.

Katy Lederer is the author of the poetry collections Winter Sex (Verse) and The Heaven-Sent Leaf (BOA Editions), as well as a memoir, Poker Face: A Girlhood Among Gamblers (Crown). This poem is from The Engineers, a new series of poems about genetics, autoimmunity, deformity, and motherhood.

You will find more poems here. You may contact the editor at poems@theawl.com.