"Tissue" was written by Pakistan-born British poet Imtiaz Dharker and published in her 2006 collection, The Terrorist at My Table. The poem is an impressionistic meditation about paper, focusing on the way that it represents both human fragility and power. The poem shifts its focus throughout, first looking at a Koran and information that has been written in the back about people's births and deaths. Later, the speaker imagines what it would be like if buildings were made out of paper, before finally relating it back to the "tissue" of human skin.
Paper that lets ...
... could alter things.
Paper thinned by ...
... born to whom,
the height and ...
... transparent with attention.
If buildings were ...
... of the wind.
Maps too. The ...
... railtracks, mountainfolds,
Fine slips from ...
... like paper kites.
An architect could ...
... or block,
but let the ...
... with living tissue,
raise a structure ...
... into your skin.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
A Reading of "Tissue" — The poem read by the poet herself.
The Invention of Paper — A short video exploring one of humankind's most vital materials.
An Interview with Dharker — An informal chat with the poet.
More Poems by Dharker — A valuable resource from the Poetry Archive.
Dharker's Website — The poet's own website, with details of Dharker's other poems and films.
1Paper that lets the light
2shine through, this
3is what could alter things.
4Paper thinned by age or touching,
5the kind you find in well-used books,
6the back of the Koran, where a hand
7has written in the names and histories,
8who was born to whom,
9the height and weight, who
10died where and how, on which sepia date,
11pages smoothed and stroked and turned
12transparent with attention.
13If buildings were paper, I might
14feel their drift, see how easily
15they fall away on a sigh, a shift
16in the direction of the wind.
17Maps too. The sun shines through
18their borderlines, the marks
19that rivers make, roads,
21Fine slips from grocery shops
22that say how much was sold
23and what was paid by credit card
24might fly our lives like paper kites.
25An architect could use all this,
26place layer over layer, luminous
27script over numbers over line,
28and never wish to build again with brick
29or block, but let the daylight break
30through capitals and monoliths,
31through the shapes that pride can make,
32find a way to trace a grand design
33with living tissue, raise a structure
34never meant to last,
35of paper smoothed and stroked
36and thinned to be transparent,
37turned into your skin.