A Personal History of Knives, part I


I must have been three or four. My grandfather always sat at his desk in the corner of the sun-room behind a long silk and straw Japanese blind carefully opening every piece of mail with a silver letterknife. I used to bring my drawings to him which he would praise to the skies and then drop, with the rest of the junk mail, into the waste basket. For some reason this delighted me. I would fetch it out and hand it to him again. Then he would proclaim how history would suffer a disservice if he did not send my work in to be published. I would watch him fold the drawing into an envelope, address it “Municipal Garbage Dump” and hand it back to me to mail off. When I asked him where I should go to mail it and he would hold up the waste basket.

One day I asked him if I could hold the letterknife. He gave me a frightening look, starring at me over the top of his reading glasses, so that I knew I had made a misstep. He grabbed my right wrist and said “open your hand”; then he slowly pressed the point of the letterknife into my palm until I could no longer bear it and started yelling and crying, tears going down my cheeks.

“Will you ever touch this knife, or any other knife?” he asked.

“No, never!” I promised at the top of my lungs. He let go.

“Good. I want to show you something.” I was trying to run away but he stopped me.

While I nursed my hand and doubted whether he loved me, my grandfather dug in the back of a deep bottom drawer. He took out a very big knife in an old leather sheath.

“Look at this,” he said.

Even then I could tell it was a strange instrument. It seemed very well crafted and yet uneven. The handle was glass, yellowed with age, and sectioned by thin steel spacers. A steel column ran up the center of the handle and merged with the steel of the blade which was double edged and slightly asymmetrical.

“When I was fighting in the Pacific,” he continued, “I was in an anti-aircraft unit. We hid our big guns in the hollows of hills where we could shoot down the Japanese planes shooting down our ships off shore. I shot a hole into this one plane, and as it came down, leaving a spiral of smoke in the sky, it tried to crash into our position and take us out. It only missed us by maybe fifty yards. The pilot did not die immediately, and when his plane burst into flames we could hear him chocking and screaming. One of the fellows in the unit knew how to work with metals. He took the cockpit glass and salvaged some parts of the wings and made each of us one of these knives. It is very pretty, isn’t it?”

“Very pretty,” I said.

“Would you like to hold it?” he asked warmly.

“Yes!” I said, nodding my head excitedly. I reached for it. He grabbed my right wrist and said “open your hand”; then he slowly pressed the point of the knife into my palm until I could no longer bear it and started yelling and crying, tears going down my cheeks.

“What did you just promise me?” he asked calmly.

“I don’t want to hold it! I don’t want to hold it!” I yelled over and over.


~ by Peter on March 10, 2008.

5 Responses to “A Personal History of Knives, part I”

  1. I dig it. Nice symmetry, nice flow.

  2. I am listening to Nine Inch Nail’s recent release “Ghost’s” on my headphones while reading this piece. For some reason the two go together so well that I could feel the blade of knife against my palm. Very clever.

  3. Very precise, incisive prose.

  4. I love it… innocent, yet chilling.

  5. Absolutely beautiful. Makes me remember similar youthful experiences.

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