Mass Effect

Pushed together, pulled apart, we were purported pluripotent.
We developed as an organ, a benign and beating heart.

We sought physicians for histology. Discovered spinal symmetry.
Within the sacred bowl of life, our innards spilled in red array.

I wondered what you'd have to say if in your mouth you grew a tongue.
I wondered what I'd have to say if in my head I grew a mouth.

Instead we moved into a house, connected by a modem.
A surgical removal could have cured us of our malady.

But seeking to remain benign, we discoursed through telepathy.
How long could we have lived like this?

With our then-rudimentary eyes we saw shapes coming toward us:
amorphous and black, shedding tears. We had nothing to say.

More by Katy Lederer


After Duras
"We go back to our house. We are lovers. 
We cannot stop loving each other."

I come to confiscate your love. 
What will you do?

Small shrubs grow in the blackened yard.
Sun, which is yellow, shines in through the windows, now barred.

You were watching me eat. 
Put your tongue in my mouth then retract it.

We were waiting for our recompense.
But everyone knows love is bankrupt.

On the billboard in front of us: breasts.
The empty middles of the mannequins that peered out through the glass. 

Reprehensibly, I mouthed the words: I love you.

Market Day

It was the market day
and I had rented a stile
by which I could number my patrons;
and a tree, so that I could plant something
living by my selling stand;
and a hefty snatch of my favorite black cloth
so that I could mimic mourning
and people might think that my husband had died
(which he had not).

But knowing that patrons
offered more money to women in black,
I pretended as such and left some of the coins
buried after I had packed up my stand.
I supposed that burying them
might make up for my pretending.
I had also to uproot the tree
and then take it back to my brother-in-law,
so there was already a great gaping hole in the ground.

Market Day II

I slapped my chickens with a ruler
as they looked at their privates—
they were ashamed and walked
as if they were kings.
I had punctured the chest
of the cavity rooster.

My dog was licking my ankles
and giving me wedding rings.
It was too much to care—
so I took money from women
by pretending that I was a husband
and then left my dog in my place
when I woke up in their beds.

I saved dimes in their mouths, though,
and then I’d pull their chains—
I’d pretend that I was the tooth fairy
then take all their money.

Related Poems

Mean Free Path [excerpt]

For the distances collapsed. 
            For the figure
failed to humanize 
the scale. For the work,
the work did nothing but invite us
to relate it to
            the wall. 
For I was a shopper in a dark

For the mode of address 
            equal to the war 
was silence, but we went on 
celebrating doubleness. 
For the city was polluted 
with light, and the world, 
For I was a fraud 
in a field of poppies.

For the rain made little 
            affective adjustments
to the architecture.
For the architecture was a long
lecture lost on me, negative 
mnemonics reflecting 
and reflecting 


I finished the reading and looked up
Changed in the familiar ways. Now for a quiet place
To begin the forgetting. The little delays
Between sensations, the audible absence of rain
Take the place of objects. I have some questions
But they can wait. Waiting is the answer
I was looking for. Any subject will do
So long as it recedes. Hearing the echo
Of your own blood in the shell but picturing
The ocean is what I meant by


You startled me. I thought you were sleeping
In the traditional sense. I like looking
At anything under glass, especially
Glass. You called me. Like overheard
Dreams. I'm writing this one as a woman
Comfortable with failure. I promise I will never
But the predicate withered. If you are
Uncomfortable seeing this as portraiture
Close your eyes. No, you startled


Unhinged in a manner of speaking 
Crossed with stars, a rain that can be paused 
So we know we're dreaming on our feet 
Like horses in the city. How sad. Maybe
No maybes. Take a position. Don't call it
Night-vision green. Think of the children
Running with scissors through the long
Where were we? If seeing this as portraiture 
Makes you uncomfortable, wake up


Wake up, it's time to begin 
The forgetting. Direct modal statements 
Wither under glass. A little book for Ari
Built to sway. I admire the use of felt
Theory, like swimming in a storm, but object
To anti-representational bias in an era of
You're not listening. I'm sorry. I was thinking 
How the beauty of your singing reinscribes 
The hope whose death it announces. Wave 


Numbness, felt silence, a sudden
Inability to swallow, the dream in which 
The face is Velcro, describing the film
In the language of disaster, the disaster in 
Not finishing sentences, removing the suicide
From the speed dial, failing to recognize 
Yourself in the photo, coming home to find
A circle of concerned family and friends 
It's more of an artists' colony than a hospital 


It's more of a vitamin than an anti-psychotic 
Collective despair expressed in I-statements 
The dream in which the skin is stonewashed 
Denim, running your hand through the hair 
Of an imaginary friend, rising from bed
Dressing, returning calls, all without 
Waking, the sudden suspicion the teeth
In your mouth are not your own, let
Alone the words