‘Childproofing’ by Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer, 2013 Augury Poetry Finalist

Photo by Dave Bledsoe, FreeVerse Photography


Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer


My mother is reading a book

entitled The Fearful Child,

and in-between pages 57 & 58,

there is a tiny yellow sticky labeled STEPHANIE.


I am the section of the chapter subtitled

“Overactive Imagination, Underactive Reasoning.”



I am abnormal.

I have been

found out.


It is disappointing

to find that

I have not been mentioned in the forward.


Just the same,

my mother has penned me in.


The book was neatly blanketed

by A Special Issue

of Martha Stewart Living

lying underneath the nightstand

near the Better Homes and Gardens

Family Medical Guide.


One morning I found a kitchen knife

wedged between

the mattress and the box spring.


It is easier to be anthologized

than really in the dark.


I can make a doily from a tourniquet

from the queen Charisma sheets.


Somewhere there is an artist

commissioned to illustrate an erection,

trench mouth and Nasturtium;

harelips, epileptic,

Convallaria majalis,

pinworms and


an itchy anus,


accidental death;


I like to read

what my mother is reading:

fragrant, wide flowers.



Occasionally, we have company

over. They ask, “Why

do you have babies

in the basement?


It is odd—

they scratch so at the door.”


My mother kept us there

when we were little.

I turned out okay.


I let the cats out.


Our two Maine Coons

live in a room

beneath the kitchen.  The basement, Stephanie.

A finished basement.


Correction: we keep our cats in the basement.


It is frightening

to go either up or down stairs.

They are beginning to sound

human—like us.



Something in the paint

becomes a hospital;

the leaded cream


a private bone

black molding

certifies against

the mirrors

and their nook,

hanging here

before the desk,

before the desk, the Askins’ window—

no one ever writes without a chair,

I ruined it I think, watering

the Bonsai, that someone

loved me for.



If you want to watch TV

you can watch


the news: people say

Southeast Atlanta

police say: a woman


in her home;

a man:

survived: her

husband is:



on the news is:

off JimmyCarterBoulevard;

sent to Grady


He was:

in the closet

for three days:


she hadn’t vacuumed;

he raped her:

I’d’ve heard:


:what the neighbors said


in a quiet:


brought in,



Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer is originally from Atlanta, GA, and works as an artist and freelance editor in St. Louis, MO, where she co-curates the Observable Readings series. She has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her poems have appeared AGNI (forthcoming), VerseColorado ReviewChicago ReviewCimarron Review, Fence, and Verse Daily, among others. Stephanie is a compulsive baker and also very handy with a pitchfork. “Childproofing” previously appeared in Delmar.