In memory, cranes have wings –
but in the now, this one’s flightless,
its wings somehow folded safe
inside the wrinkled body.
Some folds seem familiar
like streets I’ve driven twice,
but with the inevitable wrong
turn, the incorrect fold.
My brother taught me to fold them
with a trained patience,
talked me through and showed
my fingers what his already knew.
I thought I’d fold a crane a day
until I hit the thousand –
transcendence, wishes granted,
the number of will and desire.
Like other plans, this one
never took shape, never fleshed
out past the mere bones
of an idea. Today, though,
I’m suddenly needy for it,
wanting to do it, or just
to know I know how to do it –
but I can’t call it back.
I forget so much: the wristed
trick of cat’s cradle, the folds
for hats, boats, and the squared-off
finger fortune tellers from school.
I learn. I forget. I remember how
my brother gave me a gift
of one winter afternoon when I asked
and he agreed and he was my teacher.
The thousand cranes I never
folded? The wish never asked for
or even imagined? Maybe today
they call to me, try to remind me
how to gather and fold –
this crease a beak, that fold
a wing – an envelope
that’s closed and open, containing
and becoming the wonderful news
of itself. The paper-thin whispers
of the not-yet-cranes, and the fingers
of my brother, folding.
(first published in Prairie Schooner, 2003)