The poem has the form of nine quatrains; it ends with a single line. The mix of regularity (the quatrains) and irregularity (no rhyme, no definite metre, lines of varied length) could suggest that the 'grand design' of the universe has an element of uncertainty, unpredictability and diversity. The most important aspect of this design, human life, is highlighted in the single line that ends the poem; 'turned into your own skin'.
Dharker structures her poem by starting with the word 'paper' and ending with the word 'skin', and the ideas in between connect these two. This connection is reinforced by her repetition of the image of 'paper smoothed and stroked', at the beginning referring to paper, at the end referring to skin. In between, these two points, she moves between considering the nature of paper and the nature of buildings, both of which connect with humans and human civilisation. There are three sections created through her use of enjambment which link the verses: verses 1-3 are about books; verses 4-6 are about structures made by humans - buildings, maps, money; verses 7-9 plus the final line use the image of an architect designing buildings made of paper, to bring out the idea that human life and constructions are not permanent, but human values are.
Dharker uses symbolism throughout her poem: paper symbolises learning, history, culture, financial transactions and debt, human civilisation, and humans themselves. Bricks symbolise political control. Light and the sun symbolise knowledge, understanding, freedom.
Besides the imagery in the paper, Dharker uses maps to symbolise divisions between people (the 'borderlines') and connections ('roads, rail tracks'). She conveys her sadness at the destruction of humanity when buildings fall by personifying the building: 'they fall away on a sigh'. The possibility of freedom is suggested by the simile in which grocery slips 'might fly our lives like paper kites'. While we may be tethered by monetary things, in the same way kites are tied to the ground, we can still move and dance, as kites do in the air.
Dharker's lexis brings out the delicacy and fragility of paper. Adjectives to describe the paper, 'Transparent', 'fine', 'living', indicate that it needs care and protection. This is reinforced by the tenderness in her choice of verbs: 'smoothed', 'stroked', suggesting care and affection.
Her style is conversational: she seems to be thinking aloud, speculating to herself or to her listener (and it is only in the last line that there is a direct address to the reader through the use of the possessive pronoun 'your'). This style is created through her use of minor sentences (without a main verb) e.g. 'Maps too.' and the whole of verse 6.
Attitude and tone
Dharker's tone is musing: she uses conditionals such as 'If' and the modal verbs 'might' and 'could' to convey possibility. Like the tissue she uses as her main image, her ideas are not fixed; she explores her ideas, just as paper is used to explore ideas in writing, in drawing, in creating.
Although there are references to negative aspects of human life and civilisation, Dharker's attitude is ultimately hopeful. The first section is about the positive aspects of human life, the last section looks forward to a more positive future.