'To crease a sheet of paper is to change its memory'

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This column is more than 10 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. 


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 2015 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 2004-06.

◄ Yarn: Maitreyabandhu, Bloodaxe

Poet reprieved from execution but still faces 800 lashes and long jail term ►


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