The Trou­ble with Knives

The Iowa Review - - FRONT PAGE - Alexan­dria marzano-lesnevich

The trou­ble with knives is that they are made to cut, made to slice, made to sever. The trou­ble with knives is that they must al­ways be sharp. The trou­ble with knives is that there is no such thing as a kind knife, a soft knife, a knife that gives. That is not just a bad knife; it is not a knife. Three days ago I stood with a black­smith over his knives. When we’d met he’d de­scribed to me the plea­sure he took in mak­ing some­thing as hard as metal take form. Now I had come to see. The knives were lined up flat on a ta­ble like fish at a monger. Their blades gleamed like scales. Blade by blade I lifted each to the bare bulb light as the black­smith watched me. On the side of each knife a wave pat­tern shone, formed from thin sheets of steel pressed and then folded and then pressed again, un­til the many echoed back and be­came the whole. Like time, I said. The black­smith nod­ded. The knife I liked best was eight inches long and heavy with the force of in­tent. Anger, I read aloud off its side. The word was stamped into ev­ery knife, small and tight. Ahn-zhay, he said, cor­rect­ing me. French. My last name.

But anger in French is colère. Ahn-zhay has no mean­ing, is just soft syllable, so the word read could have only one in­tent. Like the blade. What’s this used for, I asked of the knife I was hold­ing. My fa­vorite. To cut, he said. To cut what, I said. This looked like a sword, had a nub for the thumb to steady the blade. I could not imag­ine wield­ing it in the kitchen, that place—for nearly veg­e­tar­ian me—of nicety. The Ja­panese once cut their veg­eta­bles with swords, he said. When in the 1800s the new em­peror for­bade the samurai from mak­ing swords, even from wear­ing them, they prac­ticed their art in se­cret. They sold their blades for the kitchen. His voice was hushed and deep and in it I could hear the wide proud faces of the samurai, the la­bor they loved and the ob­jects born of it, their quiet honor. And the women who took the blades in like chil­dren. The black­smith crossed the room and put his hand on my arm, warm and heavy. There was plea­sure in his voice; he liked this story. He liked the sub­vert­ing of the ban: the sword, re­named, be­comes a knife. Pos­si­bly he liked me. But I heard the story dif­fer­ently: the kitchen be­came the place of the sword.

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