Paper Dolls by Bonnie Proudfoot

Paper Dolls

I used to sit on the floor of the screened-in porch
with my favorite cousin, ten years older,

watch her cut paper dolls, linked bodies tumbling
out of their paper frame. As soon as I was old enough,

I wanted scissors in my hand. The best ones
were my grandmother’s sewing scissors, so sharp,

I could fold over paper, cut side to side to make a family
of girls holding hands, as I got older, cut head-to-head,

the dolls all joined at the top, made a star, like when
the camera looked down on the June Taylor dancers

on the stage of the Jackie Gleason show. I watched
my cousin’s hands, so careful at cutting on the line,

how she knew how to fold, where to begin and end,
and I wanted to see the outline, the left-over paper,

how the grain of the table or pattern of a skirt
filled the gaps where the dolls used to be. I love how

scissors make a noise a little like chewing, and how
my young sons made chewing faces when they

learned how to snip. I did it too, watching them
twitch their noses, work their jaws and teeth,

and I realize I’m also talking about memory,
not about watching the self tumble into the world,

but about how the mind holds time, moments folded
like paper, linked and tumbling out of their frame.


Bonnie Proudfoot has published essays, fiction and poetry. Her first novel, Goshen Road, (Swallow Press, 2020) was selected by the Women’s National Book Association for one of its Great Group Reads for 2020 and Long-listed for the 2021 PEN/ Hemingway Award for debut fiction, and in 2022 it won the WCONA Book of the Year Award. Her poetry chapbook, Household Gods, was published by Sheila-Na-Gig Editions in 2022. She lives in Athens, Ohio, and in her spare time she creates glass art and plays blues harmonica.

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