Action Origami

Andrea Cohen

How much can you dowith one piece of paper—creasing, tearing, addingvolume with air? You canmake a mythic seamonster toppling a tallship in high, high seas, asmy seatmate in 30C didin sixteen hours. He wasfrom Saipan, an islandadvertised as a pearlarrived at by sea or air. Thisshould have been a six-hour trip from Bostonto San Francisco, but mostlywe sat on the tarmac, icedin, waiting, as I did in a similarbut different blizzard in ’83,on a People's Express flightfrom Logan to JFK. I was goingto Park Ave to see a specialist inwhat I had. We called it homosexualitythen, or my parents did, and my fatherwas convinced it was his fault, onaccount of his queer cousin in Augusta,and his schizophrenic brother. I wasgoing to the specialist for them, wasgoing to die in the plane crashfor them, and wouldn’t theyfeel like hell? Well, I didn’tdie then, but learned to call all we didn’t comprehendgaps in understanding, becoming,as those with fortune do, moreof who I was. No one is morethan one sheet thrown to the wind,folded and refolded, becoming whatthe person beside her might neverbelieve possible. The man from Saipanhas a window seat, he has cloudsand a stack of boarding passesfastened with a rubber band, likean out-sized deck of playing cards,evidence of all the flights he’s takenthis year. It’s the end of December.Flights are different from places.Places are different from people.In half a million miles, he’s seenmostly the inside of planesand terminals. He says, I like being in the air, without sayingwhat happened on the ground, butit must have been something, don’tyou think, something makes a mancrave to be in transit, to swillchocolate milk and vodka from a papercup, to count passage in hundredsof thousands of miles, to squeezehimself into a metal tube the waymy grandparents, tumbling intoeach other at the department storewhere they worked, in Pittsburgh, in1926, tucked love letters into pneumatictubes from ladies’ hats to men’s attire.People ought to be loveletters, we ought to get sentat Mach speeds to someone who,tenderly, will tear us open, willreread us constantly and continuously,and the man from Saipan hands methe sea and the ship and the seamonster ready to make everythingveer off course, and I ask himto sign it, and he does, withxx, the way a man who can’twrite does, or like onesignaling, via shorthand—with love.

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Francesca G. Bewer

Andrea Cohen’s most recent poetry collections are Nightshade, and Unfathoming A new collection, Everything, will be published next year. Cohen’s poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic MonthlyThe Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. She directs the Blacksmith House Poetry Series in Cambridge, MA and the Writers House at Merrimack College.

New York, New York

Nightshade illuminates a world that has been here all along but, for some reason, is very hard to see. Andrea Cohen’s eyes are a terrible gift and these poems are amazing and eerie and perhaps not even hers. Not that she stole them—more that she found them, when no one else could.”
—Nick Flynn

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