Folding Memory

January 27, 2016

Photo courtesy Ulrike Mai

Introduction by Ted Kooser: This column is more than ten years old and I've finally gotten around to trying a little origami! Here's a poem about that, and about a good deal more than that, by Vanessa Stauffer, who teaches writing at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan.

Lessons

To crease a sheet of paper is to change
its memory, says the origami
master: what was a field of snow
folded into flake. A crane, erect,
structured from surface. A tree
emerges from a leaf—each form undone

reveals the seams, pressed
with ruler's edge. Some figures take
hundreds to be shaped, crossed
& doubled over, the sheet bound
to its making—a web of scars
that maps a body out of space,

how I fashion memory: idling
at an intersection next to Jack Yates High,
an hour past the bell, I saw a girl
fold herself in half to slip beneath
the busted chain-link, books thrust
ahead, splayed on asphalt broiling

in Houston sun. What memory
will she retain? Her cindered palms,
the scraped shin? Braids brushing
the dirt? The white kite of her homework
taking flight? Finding herself
locked out, or being made

to break herself in.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2015 by Vanessa Stauffer, “Lessons,” from third coast, (Winter, 2015). Poem reprinted by permission of Vanessa Stauffer and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2016 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction’s author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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Look for my travel writing here