Action Origami




How much can you do

with one piece of paper—

creasing, tearing, adding

volume with air? You can

make a mythic sea

monster toppling a tall

ship in high, high seas, as

my seatmate in 30C, in

sixteen hours did. He

was from Saipan, an island

advertised as a pearl

arrived at by sea or air. This

should have been a six-

hour trip from Boston

to San Francisco, but mostly

we sat on the tarmac, iced

in, waiting, as I did in a similar

but different blizzard in ’83,

on a People Express flight

from Logan to JFK. I was going

to Park Ave to see a specialist in

what I had. We called it homosexuality

then, or my parents did, and my father

was convinced it was his fault, on

account of his queer cousin in Augusta,

and his schizophrenic brother. I was

going to the specialist for them, was

going to die in the plane crash

for them, and wouldn’t they

feel like hell? Well, I didn’t, as

you’ve figured out, die then. Instead,

we all lived a while longer, we

learned to call all we didn’t comprehend

gaps in understanding, and I became

as those with fortune do, more

of who I was. No one is more

than one sheet thrown to the wind,

folded and refolded, becoming what

the person beside her might never

believe possible. The man from Saipan

has a window seat, he has clouds

and a stack of boarding passes

fastened with a rubber band, like

an out-sized deck of playing cards,

evidence of all the flights he’s taken

this year. It’s the end of December.

Flights are different from places.

Places are different from people.

In half a million miles, he’s seen

mostly the inside of planes

and terminals. He says, I like 

being in the air without saying

what happened on the ground, but

it must have been something, don’t

you think, something makes a man

crave to be in transit, to swill

chocolate milk and vodka from a paper

cup, to count passage in hundreds

of thousands of miles, to squeeze

himself into a metal tube the way

my grandparents, tumbling into

each other at the department store

where they worked, in Pittsburgh, in

1926, tucked love letters into pneumatic

tubes from ladies’ hats to men’s attire.

People ought to be love

letters, we ought to get sent

at mock speeds to someone who,

tenderly, will tear us open, will

reread us constantly and continuously,

and the man from Saipan hands me

the sea and the ship and the sea

monster ready to make everything

veer off course and I ask him

to sign it, and he does, with

xx, the way a man who can’t

write does, or like one

signaling, via shorthand—

with love.





Cover of TLR's "Chemistry" issue with cover art by Wayne Chang

Andrea Cohen’s poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, Poetry, The New Republic, and elsewhere. Her most recent poetry collection is Unfathoming. Other books include Furs Not Mine, Kentucky Derby, Long Division, and The Cartographer’s Vacation. Cohen directs the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge and the Writers House at Merrimack College. Read her TLR Share here.

Action Origami first appeared in TLR Chemistry.